By Pete Thomas/GrindTv
Whale watching does not often involve violence, but this week off Maui, Kate Cummings witnessed and photographed a bonafide clash of titans.
Specifically, several male humpback whales, weighing 30 to 40 tons apiece, fighting to establish dominance in the presence of a female.
This is the end of breeding season in Hawaiian waters, and brawls such as this occur, but rarely are they photographed in such vivid detail (note the blood materializing on the whale’s tubercles).
Cummings, a naturalist who runs Blue Ocean Whale Watch in Monterey, California, provided the sequence for this story.
She has witnessed all sorts of humpback whale activity during the feeding season off Monterey, but the fighting, she said, is far more typical in Hawaii.
“A few years ago I was out on a research boat in Monterey Bay and saw something that looked like competitive behavior–humpbacks chasing each other, doing head lunges etc.,” Cummings said. “I was informed it was most likely competitive group of male humpbacks pursuing a female. I was surprised to hear this since this type of behavior is mostly observed in their breeding grounds.
“But now after seeing what I saw [Wednesday] off Maui, I'm totally convinced it was a competitive group I observed years ago. The males were acting the same way–lots of head lunges (or head rises–whatever you want to call it), surfacing rapidly and rolling to the side in the direction of another whale.
“It was only this time though, that I got to see the bloody tubercles, which made it obvious these guys were competing aggressively.”
The whales now in Hawaiian waters spend the summer feeding off Alaska. The whales that visit Monterey each spring and summer to feed are nearing the end of their breeding season off Mexico.
Cummings was with Ultimate Whale Watch out of Lahaina. The engines were turned off so the only sounds were those of the battling humpbacks.
"They were far off at first, then surfaced next to us only about 50 feet away," Cummings said. "They were so involved in their brawl, yet totally aware of the boat and were able to dive down right next to us within just a few feet without touching the boat."
The images show one whale trying to push another downward.
Imagine the force of 40 tons of fury, then, and the strength required to resist such force.
Here’s hoping the best male humpback whale prevailed, and that the female was satisfied with the result.
–Images are courtesy of ©Kate Cummings and protected by copyright laws