March 15 – March 22, 2014
An Abundance of Whales!
Humpback whales are making a comeback. Heavily exploited by commercial whaling (primarily in the 1920’s through to the 1950’s), their numbers are now rebounding in many areas towards pre-whaling era levels. In the northern (and central) Atlantic, humpbacks are faring particularly well, likely now numbering upwards of 12,000 individuals. While more progress is certainly needed in some areas, the recovery of the humpback whale population represents an encouraging success story, and is testament to the resiliency of the species when threats are diminished. Indeed, although they are still considered endangered throughout all of their range (and threats certainly do still exist), certain populations are now being considered for removal from the Endangered Species Act list. Read more about the requests from both Alaska and Hawaii to remove the North Pacific humpback whale from the Endangered Species Act list here.
On the Silver Bank this week, we are able to see evidence of humpback recovery and resiliency firsthand; mother and calf pairs are gratifyingly abundant. On several occasions, we are able to spot 10+ in a single outing. In one particularly memorable encounter with just such a pair, mom rests for nearly 3 hours while baby rises repeatedly towards and around the guests. Given his inexpert ability to control buoyancy, this young calf’s attempts at grace are quite comical. In contrast to mom’s controlled ascent, baby pops topsy turvy to the surface like bubbles in champagne, sweetly effervescent. Once there, he rolls and twists near the swimmers, his only cares curiosity and closeness to mom. An escort accompanying the pair is a bit more concerned, though: clearly sensing competition from a challenger in the area, he later begins to rapidly move mom and calf off. The grand finale of this encounter is a three whale breach, mom, calf and escort rising simultaneously from the sea.
Additional encounters with moms and calves are equally dramatic. In one, baby plays at tail lobbing on the surface and mom pec slaps alluringly, while escort ups the ante with multiple tail breaches towards a challenger. Escort is thrillingly close, and unimaginably powerful. And then he comes straight towards the tender, exquisitely in control of his position and turning only at the last moment to splash the crowd. Another nearby mom and calf pair (briefly separated) breach repetitively, then a third pair starts up in response. It’s an afternoon of surface action, to complement the week’s abundance of tranquil underwater encounters.
Though frequent, interactions with mothers and calves aren’t the only highlights this week. We also have an unusual (and lengthy) in-water encounter with four whales at once: a female and escort pair accompanied by two challengers. The female hangs vertical in the water column, nose to nose with a horizontal male below her. Her preference seems clear to us, but two other males remain unconvinced (or perhaps just undeterred). They circle slowly and widely around the pair, just visible on the periphery. Occasionally the escort emits a bubble stream, his readiness to defend his prize apparent despite the stillness of the scene. On a side note, more apparent resiliency: the female in this encounter displays heavy entanglement scars, healed over but evocative of a tough trauma overcome.
So all in all, a week (and season!) of interesting behaviors. And much evidence that these magnificent animals will continue to grow in numbers through the generations, bolstering their recovery. Signs too that the Silver Bank is itself experiencing a recovery: historically decimated by unsustainable fishing practices, the abundant reefs in the area are starting to show new signs of life. In addition to common reef fish, predators such as barracuda, and Ridley’s turtles spotted this week, we’ve also seen rays, dolphins and various seabirds throughout the season. Long may the trend continue!
To see more of Ethan Daniels’ photography, visit his website at http://oceanstockimages.com
Just 2 more weeks until this season with the whales on the Silver Bank is done! Just like the whales know they’ll return every year, so do we! 2015 is Aquatic Adventures’ 25th year providing guests the rare opportunity to observe these majestic mammals in their natural habitat during their mating and calving season. Join us for an adventure of a lifetime! For schedule and availability, click here.
Written by: Lisa LaPointe, Aquatic Adventure
Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures