A researcher studying humpback whales off the coast of Maui was treated to a rare surprise after spotting a newborn humpback whale who was barely moments old.
It’s the closest Lars Bejder has been to a live birth of a humpback whale in 25 years, and lucky for us he captured it on footage.
Bejder, who is the director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, was in the area using a drone to shoot videos of humpbacks with his team when he was alerted to the birth after a local tour operator raised concerns about blood and splashing in the water.
“They had just seen all this whitewater and commotion in the water and weren’t quite sure what it was and suddenly there was all this blood in the water, which made us go over there and that’s what we discovered—a newborn calf,” said Bejder.
The baby captured in the footage is so young that its fin and tail flukes are still soft and flimsy, and it can be seen being carried on its mother’s back.
“This is quite extraordinary–within I would say 20 minutes of the humpback female giving birth to her calf. We arrive up to the animals and there is still blood in the water and the calf very uncoordinated, but pretty much as close as we could get to a live birth,” he added.
Researchers hope the footage will help them learn more about humpbacks, and also that it will raise more public interest in them.
“I think everybody can appreciate these kinds of footages, and it brings us closer to these animals and gives us a really majestic view of these creatures,” said Bejder. “I think it’s pretty spectacular.”
As Hawaii Magazine points out, after 43 years of protection under the Endangered Species Act, humpback whales in Hawaii were delisted in 2016. While the move drew opposition from many who thought it was premature, it looks like they were unfortunately right. Over the past few years their numbers have been declining.
According to a report from the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, counts of mother and calf pairs in 2017 were down over 50 percent from just three years prior, while it found an additional decline of 35 percent last year.
In addition to climate change, noise and entanglement, humpbacks also continue face threats from pollution, habitat degradation, ship strikes, overfishing and ocean acidification, which could affect their food sources.
Only time will tell if they’re really in trouble again, but hopefully this little newborn will help serve as a heart-melting little reminder of what’s at stake.
This article was first published by Care2.com on 07 Feb 2019.