Partial Humpback Whale Birth Off Maui, Detailed in Scientific Publication

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

Observations from 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 Feb. 3, 2020 reveal an in-process birth with two male escorts surrounding the mother in labor after approaching a whale watching boat operated by Captain Steve’s Rafting Adventures in Lahaina.

The newborn calf was actively being birthed tail-first, yet the birth was not complete in the one-hour the boat stayed with the group.

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

It was not known if the birth was successful until 40 days later when the boat company re-sighted the mother with a healthy calf in March 2020. This second sighting was even more remarkable since it occurred three days before Hawaiʻi shut down most boating activity due to the coronavirus pandemic, after which additional sightings would not have been possible.

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Representatives from the Whale Trust say key observations from this footage shed insight into understanding of humpback birthing behavior, including the discovery that births are not necessarily quick, males continue to pursue females even in labor, and that, at least in this case, social sounds and surface activity from 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 conducting whale watching and snorkel experiences out of the Māla Boat Ramp since 1986.

Whale Trust Maui is a nonprofit organization that has been conducting innovative research and education programs for the past 20 years on Maui. Using science-informed education, Whale Trust Mauiʻs mission is to conduct, promote, and support scientific research on whales and the marine environment, and communicate these findings to the public in a meaningful way.

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