Partial birth of a humpback whale off Maui, detailed in scientific publication

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Humpback whale giving birth off Lahaina, Maui, February 3, 2020. Photo credit: Deborah Patton © 2020

Sightings of a partial humpback whale birth that occurred off Maui last year are now documented in a scientific publication.

Underwater footage captured by author Deborah Patton’s GoPro on February 3, 2020 reveals an ongoing birth with two male escorts surrounding the laboring mother after approaching a whale watching boat operated by Captain Steve’s Rafting Adventures in Lahaina.

The newborn calf was actively tailed first, but the birth was not completed during the hour the boat remained with the group.

The nonprofit Whale Trust worked with the Maui company to publish the findings in the peer-reviewed journal, Aquatic Mammals. The full publication can be viewed for purchase here.

It was not known whether the birth was successful until 40 days later, when the shipping company saw the mother with a healthy calf again in March 2020. This second sighting was even more remarkable since it occurred three times. days before Hawai’i closed most boating activity due to the coronavirus pandemic, after which further observations would not have been possible.

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Representatives of the Whale Trust claim that key observations from these images provide insight into humpback birthing behavior, including the discovery that births are not necessarily rapid, men continue to chase women even during labor, and that, at least in this case, social sounds and surface activity of males can occur simultaneously.

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“Captain Steve’s Rafting Adventures gathered invaluable documentation of the experience, deepening our understanding of the birth process, which has rarely been observed,” according to the Whale Trust.

Captain Steve’s Rafting Adventures has been running whale watching and snorkeling experiences from Māla Boat Ramp since 1986.

Whale Trust Maui is a non-profit organization that has been leading innovative research and education programs for 20 years in Maui. Using science-based education, the mission of Whale Trust Maui is to conduct, promote and support scientific research on whales and the marine environment, and to communicate these results to the public in a meaningful way.

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