Historic Humpback Whale Birth Captured on Camera in Hawaii for First Time

The waters of Lahaina, Hawaii, bore witness to an unprecedented event on March 5, 2021. For the first time in recorded history, scientists captured the full birth of a humpback whale on camera.

National Geographic’s team, alongside Dr. Rachel Cartwright, a renowned whale researcher, documented this miraculous moment, marking a significant milestone in marine biology.

Humpback whales typically give birth in warm, tropical waters.
Photo: Pexels
Humpback whales typically give birth in warm, tropical waters.

The Long-Awaited Moment

Cartwright, leading the Keiki Kohola Project, a Maui-based organization dedicated to protecting humpback whale mothers and calves, had awaited such an event for over two decades. The anticipation of witnessing a full humpback whale birth, something never before seen, was palpable among the scientific community.

As Beat of Hawaii reports, The unfolding of this extraordinary event started around 3 p.m. when a pod of male humpback whales was observed near a female, suggesting the onset of a birth. This was the first indication that something remarkable was about to happen.

Female humpbacks usually birth a single calf every two to three years.
Photo: Pexels
Female humpbacks usually birth a single calf every two to three years.

A Rare Glimpse into Whale Birthing

Prior to this event, scientists had only managed to capture glimpses of female humpback whales in labor. Nat Geo maintains the complete process of birthing had remained elusive, making this footage especially significant. It provides an unparalleled insight into the birthing practices of these majestic creatures.

The gestation period for humpback whales is about 11 months.
Photo: Pexels
The gestation period for humpback whales is about 11 months.

Capturing the Moment and Understanding Whale Behavior

A crew member, diving to film the whales, first spotted a small fluke protruding from the female whale’s underbelly, reports the Daily Mail. This initial sighting was crucial in alerting the team to the imminent event.

A research drone meanwhile captured what would become a historic record, unbeknownst to the team at the time. Dr. Cartwright recounted how they realized the significance of their footage only upon reviewing it, capturing not only the birth but also other vital data.

This event also shed light on unique aspects of humpback whale behavior. For instance, according to the Daily Mail, the presence of males blowing bubbles around the birthing female suggested possible roles in courting or triggering the release of feel-good hormones like oxytocin. As Hakai Magazine reports, this behavior paints a broader picture of the complex social structures and interactions within humpback whale communities.

Calving season for humpbacks occurs primarily in winter months.
Photo: Pexels
Calving season for humpbacks occurs primarily in winter months.

Glimpse into the Future

With the birth captured in its entirety, the National Geographic series “Incredible Animal Journeys” will feature this event, providing the public with an opportunity to witness this remarkable phenomenon. This documentation marks a new era in understanding and appreciating the intricacies of marine life.

See more in the video below.

The first-ever recorded birth of a humpback whale is not just a triumph for marine biology but a testament to the perseverance and dedication of scientists like Dr. Cartwright. It underscores the importance of continued research and conservation efforts for these magnificent creatures, offering a window into their mysterious world under the sea.

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