I've recently returned from a marvelous trip to Hawaii. The weather was great and a welcome respite from the snow storm that I left in Michigan in mid December, but what really made the trip for me was the wealth of experiences that I had and the incredible people that I was with. In a year where I did and saw many amazing and beautiful things this trip was one of the highlights. I just keep learning more about the world around me, and that thrills me!

One morning we left on a boat just as the sun was rising. The early morning light sparkled on the calm water and back lit the steep, verdant hills that bent down to the Pacific Ocean's edge. The shadows behind the hills were a backdrop for the mist rising off the water. The mist was coming from some of the largest animals on earth, Humpback Whales.

The whales had also journeyed a long way from a cold environment to reach Hawaii. Swimming at a modest speed of 3-9 miles per hour the whales had covered over 1000 miles each month to arrive all the way from the coast of Alaska. Each winter Humpback Whales migrate to the coast of Hawaii and perform a wonderful ritual. The males, called bulls, sing a long, detailed song that lasts 10 to 12 minutes. When the song is over they pick up where they started and sing the same song all over again.

Bulls from the same region seem to sing variations of the same song, although every year the song evolves. Perhaps they are telling a story that is modified over time, or maybe they are even telling of the beauty they have seen. Maybe someday we will cross the barrier that lets us understand the songs, but for now about all we know is that the bulls sing to court the cows (females). It seemed appropriate to me that these animals that seemed like gentle giants would woo each other with melodies and song.

During the winter these whales breed off the coast of Hawaii, and then return to Alaska. Throughout the world other humpbacks leave similar cold climates, breed in tropical locations, and then migrate back. After a gestation period of a year the whales return to warm waters and give birth... to 12 foot long, two and a half ton calves.

In the early morning light a pod of whales was traveling past us. You can spot Humpback whales by the spouts that they make as they exhale through their blow hole. These spouts are like little geysers in the ocean. As the whales got closer you could hear the rush of the water being exhaled. One whale came close enough that it's sighing could be clearly heard. Afterward I thought about that sound and I replayed it over and over in my mind. As I got into the rhythm of the days and the beauty around the islands I began to think of it as more than just a sigh; I came to think it was a sigh of contentment.

If you'd like to test your Humpback Whale knowledge there is a fun quiz at http://www.nwf.org/wildlife/humpbackwhale/quiz.cfm?photo=1

Charles St. Charles III

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