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A Rare Sighting So Early in the Season

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Whale Watching | Mammals

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Kera

Although the blue whales aren’t here every day yet, I’ve already seen a pretty rare sighting for this season…a mother and baby blue whale, also called a cow/calf pair. Last September, which is the end of our typical blue whale watching season, I got a call from one of the captains from the boats we tour with and he told me he saw a cow/calf pair of blues. I was so excited! I’d been out so many times all summer and never heard of any reports for a cow/calf pair! How amazing! I got out on the boat and spent two days with them before they continued on their way. That had to be one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. And now here we are at the very beginning of the season, and I’m seeing a cow/calf pair already. How exciting!!

The last couple of weeks have been our “dolphin and sea life cruise,” and that’s pretty much what we’ve been seeing. Most of the trips have been filled with dolphins, seals, sea lions, and sea birds. So when we saw a blow a few weeks ago, I was more than ready to see a whale. By the size of the blow we knew that it was either a blue whale or a fin whale, which is the second largest animal in the world to the blue whale. As we got closer to the blow I noticed there was another blow close by. The whales started getting closer and closer to one another. As we got close enough to identify the whales, I noticed that the second blow was coming from a baby! I couldn’t believe it!

The baby didn’t look to be small enough to be a newborn whale. I would guess it to be around 4-6 months old. When calf blues are born, they’re usually around 20-25 feet long. This one was about 40 feet or so. It seems like growing 15-20 feet in a few months is a lot, but not for a blue whale! It’s very important that they grow as fast as they can in both weight and length. They’re able to grow this fast by drinking a very fatty milk from their mother. A human’s milk is about 2% fat where a blue whale’s milk is about 53% fat! This enables them to grow up to 1.5 inches a day, and gain up to 200 lbs a day. That’s a pretty amazing task!

Although I’ve only ever seen one cow/calf pair before, there was something very different about this mother. Her entire spine was showing through her skin. I was very worried that perhaps she was extremely underweight, however, her body seemed nice and round and didn’t seem to be lumpy as underweight whales tend to be. That gave me some hope. I immediately emailed a couple of researchers and asked what they thought. So far I’ve heard from one, and they agree that her body looks nice and full and that perhaps she just has a lumpy back. That definitely makes me feel better!

It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve spotted the pair. Our last sighting was a little further north than we had been seeing them the previous days. Blue whales have been hanging out feeding in our waters the last few summers, so if these two whales left the area, I hope they return and hang around to feed this summer. If they continue on to other feeding grounds and we don’t seem them again, I hope they have a safe migration and hopefully we’ll see them again some other time. I’ve been lucky enough to take some great dorsal fin pictures, so if they return to the area and we get pictures again, we’ll be able to tell if it’s them!

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A Rare Sighting So Early in the Season
A mother blue keeps her baby pretty close to her side  | Kera Mathes
A Rare Sighting So Early in the Season
The mother blue whale has a very lumpy back. This looks to be her spine.  | Kera Mathes
A Rare Sighting So Early in the Season
Pictures of the dorsal fin are used to match up whales, so if we ever see these whales again and have a picture like this, we can make a match!  | Kera Mathes

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Alexi Holford's avatar

Alexi Holford

Thursday, July 09, 2009 04:10 PM

How fantastic! What a great story. And thank you for following up with emails to researchers to ask about the possible reasons for the mother’s lumpy back. I am glad that it does not seem to be in danger. Although I worry more and more about whales off our coast since we are so close to the ports. I am glad you got fluke pictures so that we will hopefully know if they return. Thank you!

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