Humpback Whales in Tonga 2014 | Part 6

When I posted Part 3 of my updates on 24 August, I discussed the abundance of heat runs this season. Little did I realise how many there would be.

breaching humpback whale, tonga
Humpback whale female breaching, dorsal fin of male visible in front

While sitting here in an airline lounge, I've just gone through my notes and counted the number of heat runs I saw this season.


That's a heckuva lot.

To put that figure in context, I'm usually happy to see a handful in a given season. Three or four would send me over the moon, so you can imagine how giddy I was each time I came across yet another heat run.

My brain isn't engaged enough right now to compose too detailed a post, so I thought I'd share some above-water photos from some recent heat-run action.

Pictured above is a female humpback whale breaching beside the lead escort in an action-packed heat run comprising at least five adult whales. As I alluded to in Part 3, females that are the center of activity in a heat run often seem to revel in the attention. 

breaching female humpback whale, tonga
Humpback whale female executing a forward breach, what I call a face-flop

They breach often, sometimes doing forward face-flops as pictured above, and they perform and display at the surface a lot (as well as underwater, of course), with pectoral fin antics being a common sight.

female humpback whale pectoral fins
Female humpback whale holding her pectoral fins up in the air

The males, in the meantime, are usually busy doing boy stuff, like rocketing out of the water next to a rival:

male humpback whales in competition
Male humpback whale surging out of the water beside a rival male

...creating cascades of water when they erupt from the depths to breathe, snort and grunt.

male humpback whale in heat run, tonga
Male humpback whale coming up for air during a heat run

Here's a feisty male charging into the fluke of another boy in front of him:

male humpback whale charging another whale
Male humpback whale chasing down a rival

And here's a particularly pugnacious male doing a sideways lunge to deliver a karate-chop body-blow to a competitor:

male humpback whales in heat run, tonga
Male humpback whale slamming a competitor in a heat run

Male humpbacks have a considerable repertoire of moves they use in these competitive situations.

Besides lunges, body-slams and the like, one of the most impressive demonstrations of power and athleticism is when a whale flares its pectoral fins out and pulls up into a vertical position, effectively coming to a complete stop, like a fighter jet that intentionally pulls up to stall.

Lead escorts seem to like using this manoeuvre to block challengers, forcing trailing males to turn on a dime or end up colliding headfirst into a solid whale wall. I've seen males execute this move many times, but it happens so quickly and without warning that I've never succeeded in getting a decent photo, until now:

male humpback whale body block
Body block, humpback style

Many of the heat runs this season have featured lots of breaching, which is always great fun to watch:

male humpback whale breaching
Classic humpback whale breach during a heat run

But...even though humpbacks weigh-in at 40 tonnes or more, it's remarkably easy to miss one launching itself out of the water right beside you, as can be seen here:

humpback whale breaching
One humpback whale in the air; Six people looking the other way

Amazingly, no one seemed to notice when the humpback whale crashed into the water next to them either:

humpback whale breaching next to boat
One cetacean crashing into the water; Six humans still gazing nonchalantly in the opposite direction

Almost time to get on the next plane. More to come later.

Related Posts:

Heading Back to Tonga

Humpback Whales in Tonga 2014 | Part 1

Humpback Whales in Tonga 2014 | Part 2

Humpback Whales in Tonga 2014 | Part 3

Humpback Whales in Tonga 2014 | Part 4

Humpback Whales in Tonga 2014 | Part 5