"" Writer's Wanderings: Maui - A Whale of a Competition!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Maui - A Whale of a Competition!

As I've stated before, the Maui Nui basin is the place where it's all happening for the Northern Pacific humpbacks that return to this area for breeding and birthing. While a female whale who has just given birth is capable of getting pregnant again soon after, she usually chooses not to since she has "junior" to take care of for the long trip back to Alaska and then for some time after that until he's able to care for himself. But the males around the new moms and the baby-less females are eager to get to the breeding part and don't discriminate.

A female, it seems, does choose carefully who she will let father her calf. Therefore, the males all compete for her attention and of course, as in most species, go through all sorts of machinations to gain notice and win the coveted prize.

The males form what is called competition pods--groups of whales usually following a female with or without a calf, to display to her strength and dominance over the other males. There are all sorts of behaviors that can be seen as this happens and lots below the water level that can only be imagined.

Often as you look out in the water, you will see pectoral fins being thwacked against the surface or tails being slapped to ward off other males. The behavior creates huge splashes and of course, in the water, a lot of noise. Then they will charge each other like their four legged counterparts in a bull ring.

Once you get close to a pod, you can actually see them charging each other. One of the pictures here shows the head of a male whale who has inflated his cheeks to make himself look larger as he prepares to charge another male. In that particular group, we were even close enough on our whale watching boat to hear them trumpet at each other--almost a loud growl.

They often emerge a bit bloodied from the thwacking and charging and whatever else they do below the surface as they fight for the female's attention. The winner will often be awarded the coveted "escort" position--especially if there is a calf involved. The female will allow him to protect her and her calf and he will cordially oblige in the hope that it will lead to a more, shall we say physical relationship.

The competition pods form for anywhere from five minutes to hours and possibly a day. Considering the way they go at each other and the physical stamina they need, they are often spent after a little while.

After watching several of these, I couldn't help but think of how they resembled a bunch of teenage boys hanging out, trying to impress the girls. Ah, love. . .

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