Tour boat captures rare footage of humpback whale giving birth

Updated: Feb. 4, 2020 at 4:43 PM HST
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MAUI, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Maui tour boat company captured incredibly rare footage of a humpback whale trying to give birth to her calf.

The vessel, Cane Fire II, was two miles off of Lahaina when the encounter took place at about 8:30 a.m. on Monday.

Crew members of Captain Steve's Rafting Adventures said the roughly 40-foot long female approached their vessel with two male escorts about an hour into the tour.

"They just started circling fast, circling, going back and forth, and circling under the boat and everything," said crew naturalist Debbie Patton.

For the first few minutes, even the employees didn't realize what they were witnessing.

“It finally dawned on us that we’re seeing something pretty fantastic that we don’t think anyone else has ever seen before, at least it has not been filmed,” said Patton.

At one point, more of the calf started to appear.

“A bunch of us saw the baby come further out, out about to its dorsal fin, so maybe more than halfway, and everybody was screaming,” recalled Patton.

But the calf went back into the mother's body, with only its tail sticking out again.

The Cane Fire II stayed for about an hour. The crew notified NOAA, which sent a response boat that continued to watch the mother until she disappeared into rougher water.

"This remains a mystery. We don't know if she had a successful birth or not," said Patton.

Since the whale was monitored for at least two and a half hours, experts are concerned that she may have been in distress.

"Not that we know exactly how long these births take, but we believe they're much shorter," said Ed Lyman, natural resource management specialist at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

Lyman said it will be a challenge to find her again, but researchers plan to use photos of her tail fins, known as flukes, to try to identify her in the future and see if she has a calf.

“It may not be a happy ending, but still it was a reminder of the value of this habitat,” said Lyman.

Vessels are allowed to remain in place if the whales approach them. Otherwise ocean users are supposed to remain at least 100 yards away from the animals.

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