Another exciting week for whale research team

Monday September 19, 2016 Written by Published in Environment

It’s been yet another exciting week for the whale team on Rarotonga.


Last Saturday we said goodbye to our most recent guest, Rick Rosenthal of The Blue Planet and Planet Earth television series.

Rick was here for two weeks to begin working on a film with Nan called Whale Wisdom, about the intelligence and culture of whales. As an old friend of Nan’s, Rick is familiar with the research conducted here in Rarotonga. He made a documentary on Nan in 2003 called Footprints on the Water. The team loved working with him, and we were sad to see him go.

Sunday was the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US. As the team headed out to sea that day, we reflected on those that were lost or otherwise harmed on that day. Nan has a good friend who is a September 11 survivor. He barely made it out of the second tower, after it had been hit by the second jet. Somehow he has escaped from the 54th floor before the building collapsed. Nan had been in contact with him throughout the morning, She asked him to name a whale that we came in contact with that day, in his honor. He named it “Gandalf”.

We found “Gandalf” tail-slapping, breaching and tail-lobbing, just offshore. Whenever we find whales, we work hard to get photographs of the left dorsal fin, right dorsal fin, and fluke. We also retrieve a tiny piece of whale skin floating in the water to analyze for DNA, microbiology, bio-accumulation of persistent toxins, blue carbon and stable isotopes. This can be difficult, but Gandalf gave us everything we needed, and we were amazed when we saw his fluke. It had beautiful black markings across its ventral face and was the only one of its kind that we have seen so far this season. He had a hammerhead shark swimming along with him that swam over and visited our boat a couple of times. It was gorgeous!

As we moved further anticlockwise, we found six spinner dolphins. They swam alongside the boat, and one of the animals jumped in the air and spun several times. Already feeling spoiled by the day’s great animals, we started to head back towards harbour to see if we could find our whale friend again.

We had some trouble finding him, so we decided to drop the hydrophone to see if he was singing. He was! Here we recorded the most beautiful song we have heard all season. At this point, we confirmed the animal was a male because only male humpback whales sing. The sound was reverberating perfectly off the reef, and he sang a song made up of multiple phrases from other whale songs that we had heard throughout the field season.

It was a perfectly calm day with a magical greyish blue sky suddenly filled with unexpected whale breaches to remind us of how blessed we are to live here in Rarotonga and have our safe, peaceful lives.

Please remember to report any whales at the time of sighting to 55-666. We thank you for your continuous support of our projects and for being an essential part of our team in working towards a better world! You can always learn more about what we do at and

                - Nan Hauser

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