February 14 ~ February 21, 2015
The relationship between a humpback mother and calf appears to be an extraordinarily intimate and involved one, as one might expect of creatures with such enormous intelligence and investment in their young (a humpback will typically give birth only every 2-3 years, and calf mortality is high). Mothers will lead their calves on long traverses to build strength, and will keep constant vigilance as baby masters complicated behaviors. When baby tires, mom will provide a welcoming pec fin for baby to rest under until he recovers, and gallons of fattening milk to fuel his endeavors. A mother humpback quite literally gives everything of herself, fasting for months even as her body continues to nourish her rapidly growing calf.
This week on the Silver Bank we are fortunate to share many varied encounters with mothers and calves. In the first, we are granted over two hours with a mother and calf pair, with frequent nursing behavior early on from baby (later, baby becomes increasingly interested in us rather than feeding, returning to mom only to gain courage for his next shy pass). A second encounter goes very differently in that mom and baby don’t “settle” – rather mom takes a curious interest in us and begins circling closely. While this new mom is accompanied by a rather pushy escort, for awhile she ignores his advances in favor of investigating us. Her tiny baby stays reassuringly close to his mama, rolling about and draping himself over her nose.
In later mother and calf encounters, baby would prove to be more ambitious. Under a sublime sunshiny sky and with outstanding visibility, we come across our first such pair. Mom hangs shallow in the water column, while her energetic calf makes multiple close passes towards us. Young humpbacks lack the grace and agility of their parents, and this baby’s enthusiasm is thrilling to watch. Occasionally baby ranges quite far from mom, and in one such episode he takes off altogether, mom fin slapping and breaching in alarm (and perhaps irritation) at her wayward boy. The in-water encounter ends at this point, but it isn’t long before we find another pair. This baby starts out shy, peering over mom’s head at us, but later becomes very busy, jetting off on big circles. Eventually baby begins to pass quite close to us, even kicking off for a series of breaches to end the session on a literal high note.
The action doesn’t stop at mom and calf encounters this week, as we are also treated to plenty of spectacular surface activity. At one point, five whales circle the tender demonstrating moves from tail breach to fin slap, and in another occasion an escort performs a series of chin breaches directly in front of, and towards, the tender. While they certainly look big under water, nothing quite compares to them launching out of the water just in front of you!
A last special treat this week was a visit from Jenn Tackaberry, of the Center for Coastal Studies. Aquatic Adventures has paired with CCS to help study and preserve humpback whales and their habitats, and Jenn gave a great presentation on the research currently being conducted at CCS. It was an educational and inspiring end to another great week on the Silver Bank.
Written by: Lisa LaPointe, Aquatic Adventures
Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures