Aquatic Adventures Whale Tales S26:W5

February 20 ~ February 27, 2016
Week Five of our 26th Season  

Mid season on the Silver Bank and the whales are everywhere! It is thought that between five and seven thousand North Atlantic Humpback whales come and go through this area over the five month calving and breeding season and as time goes by we are seeing more and more new mothers and their babies.  Newly born calves are able to swim, breathe and nurse but they stay very close to their mothers in these first few months while they build their confidence.

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This week we encountered numerous mother and calf pairs and on a sunny Tuesday afternoon one mother whale in particular allowed us a wonderful in-water encounter with her and her babe. The mother and calf were accompanied by an escort and all three whales were completely relaxed and unfazed by the presence of our two tenders and excited snorkelers. While mother and escort rested below the surface at fifteen feet, the new babe, still perfecting her buoyancy, bobbed gently to the surface every five minutes or so to take a few breaths before returning to tuck neatly under mum’s pectoral fin or chin. The relaxed trio chose to stay with us for more than five hours allowing all of our guests their turn in sharing in this most tender and special encounter with these awe-inspiring mammals. In between snoozes, when the mother rose to take breaths, she would gently balance the babe over her head in a behavior called the nose push.  This very intimate action is thought to be done directly after birth when the mother assists the calf to take her first breath and so must undoubtedly provide a comforting and bonding experience for the young whale and new mum. The encounter was made all the more special by a spectacular back drop of coral heads and crystal clear waters, very much appreciated by photographers in the group!

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Although we are thankful for every encounter no matter how long or short, with mother and calf groups at every turn it almost seemed inevitable that we would have another chance to enter the water, and sure enough, we did!  This time, as incredible as it sounds the whales actually chose us rather than the other way around! Whilst in the water with one mother/calf pair we were disheartened when they quickly moved away. However we soon discovered that the reason was because another mother/calf pair was making a bee-line for our tender and proceeded to settle right below us!!  Not wanting to miss this opportunity given to us by the mother whale, we slipped into the water and had yet another beautiful encounter. This boisterous youngster was a little livelier than the last and playfully bobbed around on the surface showing off his new found moves as a budding acrobat of the sea. We can only assume that the new mother was glad to have her energetic boy kept entertained by us as much as we were entertained by him, while she napped peacefully below. After more than an hour with the two whales we exited the water for the last time and, as if in reward for our babysitting, the mother whale awoke and performed two consecutive spinning head breaches. A perfect end to a perfect day!

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Along with the wonderful in-water encounters this week we also enjoyed dramatic top-side activity with two adult whales fin slapping for more than an hour and numerous opportunities to get that perfect fluke shot with lob-tailing whales.

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And to top off another great charter we were extremely lucky one night to hear the lullaby of a singing whale through the hull of the mother ship while we all lay in our bunks!!! The chances of a whale happening to be right under the mother ship, singing at a time when the whole boat is quiet are so slim that the phenomenon is a very rare and special thing.

Seeing humpback whales in the water for the first time is an extremely emotional and memorable experience, and this week for three very talented guests the whales got their creative juices flowing!  Thank you Cathleen, Allegra and Alicia for sharing your sketches, paintings and songs with us this week, all inspired by the beautiful Whales of the Silver Bank!

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The Aquatic Adventures team hopes that you are as inspired as we are to help sustain the humpback whale population. Through our partnership with the Center for Coastal Studies, we are helping to gain critical information on these charismatic creatures, and to seek ways to protect and preserve them. To find out more about this effort, join their mailing list or to make a donation, large or small, please visit:

www.coastalstudies.org/aquaticadventures

LIKE us on Facebook
FOLLOW us on Twitter
Learn more about Aquatic Adventures here.

Written by: Pippa Swannell, Aquatic Adventures
Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures 

Aquatic Adventures Whale Tales S26:W4

February 13 ~ February 20, 2016
Week Four of our 26th Season  

In perfect timing for this Valentine’s Day week on the Silver Bank, love was definitely in the air! In a dramatic change in pace from the rowdy groups of the previous week, this week brought us stunningly beautiful displays of tenderness and affection from the Whales of the Silver Bank. On both the first and second day of the charter we encountered pairs of dancing whales. It is not known precisely what this most graceful of all humpback whale behavior means but it most certainly appears to be some kind of pre-mating courtship. During one of these very special encounters all the Aquatic Adventure guests were fortunate enough to witness the spectacular and yet extremely intimate show as a male and female slowly spun and maneuvered around each other. The whales appeared to incorporate the Aquatic Adventure tenders into their ballet as they approached each tender in turn while guests and crew alike looked on in wonder. The whales would hold elegant poses, nose to nose or back to back, vertical in the water with their pectoral fins outstretched and then over and over again they would gently rise above the surface in unison for perfectly choreographed double spy hops. Spy hopping is an intriguing behavior where the whale will emerge slowly from the water showing only the top of their head, sometimes as far as the eyes but not always. It is believed that this is done in order to gather environmental data using their tubercles, located on the top of the head and chin. Every tubercle contains a single short hair named the vibrissa that acts like a cat’s whisker and can detect atmospheric conditions like wind speed and direction or to check for top-side activity like whale watching boats!  On this occasion the spy hopping, fluke raising and gentle fin slapping was all part of the dance.

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©Heather Reser

Almost half the group this week were returning guests eager to experience the serenity and thrills of the Silver Bank Whales again. And for several lucky guests these dancing giants were their very first humpback whale sightings! Regardless of whether it was for the first, second or thirteenth time (!) all the guests felt privileged to have been able to enter the water with these graceful giants and share in this unique performance. The male and female stayed with our boats for more than three and a half hours, apparently enjoying the attention and happy to interact with the lucky snorkelers.  After the whales allowing us so much time with them we decided to give the romantic couple some privacy and as we returned to the mother ship for a well earned lunch we were bid farewell with a finale of a spinning head breach!

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With this encounter alone all of our guests would have gone home happy but the excitement didn’t end there. With more and more humpbacks traveling down from northern waters, coming here for calving and breeding, even in our little corner of the bank we saw whales at every turn. We had an extended in-water encounter for close to two hours with two sleeping whales and some spectacular top-side activity from a mother, calf and escort. The new baby, most likely only a few weeks old, but still measuring in at around fourteen feet long and weighing close to two tons, practiced their newly learnt behavior of lob tailing over and over again while the mother and escort swam on either side. When the escort and mother began fin slapping too we dropped back and enjoyed the show from a distance, not wanting to interfere in the young calf’s training! Over the next few weeks this season’s new calves will continue to develop their skills and build up their strength in preparation for when their mothers guide them on their long journey up to the northern feeding grounds. Until then, we can enjoy watching the babies as they grow up and look forward to seeing many more as the season goes on.

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The Aquatic Adventures team hopes that you are as inspired as we are to help sustain the humpback whale population. Through our partnership with the Center for Coastal Studies, we are helping to gain critical information on these charismatic creatures, and to seek ways to protect and preserve them. To find out more about this effort, join their mailing list or to make a donation, large or small, please visit:

www.coastalstudies.org/aquaticadventures

LIKE us on Facebook

FOLLOW us on Twitter
Learn more about Aquatic Adventures here.

Written by: Pippa Swannell, Aquatic Adventures
Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures 

Aquatic Adventures Whale Tales S26:W3

February 6 ~ February 13, 2016
Week Three of our 26th Season  

As the sun rose over the horizon on the Silver Bank, so began our third week of the Humpback Whale season here in the Dominican Republic. Three of our guests this week had birthdays during the charter and what better way to celebrate your birthday than to be out on the open sea, watching The Whales of the Silver Bank in all their splendor!

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Spirits were high as the week kicked off with some spectacular surface activity from more than three different mother and calf pairs on our first day out on the tenders. Mothers and calves are often accompanied by an adult male whale, termed an Escort, that will swim alongside or in the general vicinity of the female in the hope of mating with her. Although an Escort would never normally show any aggression towards the female or her calf, their presence can sometimes be an irritation to a mother whose only focus is to wean and teach her newborn. If other males challenge the escort’s position, the resulting heated battles between the escort and challengers can be stressful for the new mum and babe.  On this first morning of whale watching the mother and calf pairs that we encountered were unencumbered by escorts and appeared to be relaxed and happy in the Dominican sunshine. The first juvenile we observed was full of the joys of spring, practicing their newly learnt postures and poses with multiple chin breaches and full body breaches, over and over again with seemingly unending energy! This provided fantastic photographic opportunities for our guests and as both mother and baby began to calm down and rest we were able to enter the water and capture priceless images and memories of the two whales as they cruised under the tender, mere feet below the snorkelers at the surface.

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The lucky guests had many opportunities throughout the week to experience the whales up close and personal. We had more in-water encounters with mothers and calves and some spectacular surface activity from rowdy groups. One of the rowdy groups consisted of six whales; a mother, calf, escort and three challenging males vying for the attentions of the female. A maelstrom of fin slapping, lob-tailing, breaching and lunging, often only 10 or 20 feet from the tender! After all that excitement we had a wonderful chance to really appreciate the gentle giants with both tenders getting to spend nearly an hour in the water with a pair of sleeping adults, observing from only a few feet away as the sleepy marine mammals gracefully made their way to the surface to breathe every 25 minutes or so.

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The highlight of the week for many of our guests and crew alike was the chance to hear a singing whale for the second week in a row!  While exiting the water after a fly-by with a mother, calf and escort, one of our whale crew recognized the distinctive whoops and squeals of a singing whale some distance away. After some exploratory dips in the area by Aquatic Adventures team member of 13 years, Lorenzo Martinez – the human hydrophone! – we were able to pin-point the singer’s exact location and spend several minutes in the water with the musical whale before he moved on to serenade in another area of the Silver Bank.

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Our last afternoon out on the water brought some wet and windy weather but this deterred neither the guests nor the whales and we were treated to the awesome sight of a triple full-body breach by three adult whales providing an impressive finale for the week!

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The Aquatic Adventures team hopes that you are as inspired as we are to help sustain the humpback whale population. Through our partnership with the Center for Coastal Studies, we are helping to gain critical information on these charismatic creatures, and to seek ways to protect and preserve them. To find out more about this effort, join their mailing list or to make a donation, large or small, please visit:

www.coastalstudies.org/aquaticadventures

LIKE us on Facebook

FOLLOW us on Twitter
Learn more about Aquatic Adventures here.

Written by: Pippa Swannell, Aquatic Adventures
Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures 

Aquatic Adventures Whale Tales S26:W2

January 30 – February 6, 2016
Week Two of our 26th Season

It’s week two on the Silver Bank and more Humpback Whales are making their way down to the Caribbean calving and breeding grounds. Also traveling from afar to join us were our guests this week coming all the way from Germany, Austria and Italy along with six from the USA and three home-grown guests from the Dominican Republic. We love it when people from all over the world come to share in the majesty and beauty of the Silver Bank whales and return home with unforgettable memories and photos.

Inevitably, with the steady influx of whales, including an increasing number of sexually mature males with only mating on their minds, tensions run high. We were treated this week to some spectacular Rowdy Group behavior, so named for the high spirited activities of two or more males competing over a female in estrous. A female will return to estrous directly after giving birth regardless of whether her mind is on reproduction or not and with potential suitors determined to be the one at her side no matter what, it can be difficult sometimes for a mother to keep her newly born calf a safe distance from the fighting males. During one particularly heated encounter this week a desirable female, with her calf, was being pursued by an escort and three other challenging whales. As the powerful, fully grown, 45 foot males weaved and dived around each other the mother whale appeared very distressed by the ordeal, attempting to ward off the males with high pitched trumpet blows and by slashing and lobbing her tail at them. She maneuvered her calf into the safety of her slipstream across her back so it could keep up with the group. Although we, on the Aquatic Adventures tender, attempted to maintain a safe distance from the watery brawl, we realized that the female was again and again approaching us in the hope that the males would leave her and her baby in peace. This tactic did not deter the single-minded males and made for an especially thrilling encounter for all of us on the boat, with close-up surface activity as the whales rammed and lunged at each other, fighting for pole position.

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The wonderful variety of whale encounters this week were thankfully not all so intense and every guest was lucky enough to have prolonged in-water experiences with sleeping whales, a settled and relaxed mother and calf and even a lone singing whale! Many people in their lives will have heard some kind of Humpback Whale song, whether it is on their meditation CD, the ring tone on their phone or even an actual unedited recording from a hydrophone. However to be in the water, floating only fifty feet over the head of the singing animal, is to be one of only very few people in a very exclusive club! Although other species of whales are known to vocalize, it is shown that only Humpbacks actually sing a tune with a recognizable pattern. This same complex arrangement of moans, squeaks and bellows will be sung by all the North Atlantic Humpback Whales this year and will change for next year. Different regional populations of Humpbacks, such as the Pacific Humpbacks, will sing a different arrangement, much like differing languages or regional accents amongst humans. The enigmatic song of the Humpback is thought to be sung only by males and most likely done to attract a mate. During the mating season here in the Dominican Republic, the Silver Bank (along with neighboring breeding and calving grounds, Mouchoir Bank and Navidad Bank) will of course be alive with song but to hear the singing whales first hand is a rare and special experience that we often only encounter once or twice a season.

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After a week full of contrasts, from the fast paced excitement of the rowdy groups to the tender gentleness of mother and calf interactions,  we felt privileged to have yet another special encounter on the last day. Like the proverbial icing on the cake our final encounter of the week was a dancing whale! Late in the afternoon we spotted a pair of adults, most likely a male and female. They circled the tender twice, relaxed but clearly feeling playful and curious. When we entered the water we witnessed the female gracefully turning and displaying her belly to the snorkelers while the male swam between the coral mounds below. This made for a truly beautiful end to the week as we made our way back to the mother ship and the sun slipped slowly below the horizon on the Silver Bank.

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Written by: Pippa Swannell, Aquatic Adventures
Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures

 

Aquatic Adventures Whale Tales S26:W1

January 23 – January 30, 2016
Week One of our 26th Season 

As thousands of North Atlantic Humpback whales make their annual migration from icy, nutrient rich northern waters down to the warmth of the tropical Southern Caribbean, Aquatic Adventures began their 26th year on the Silver Bank.

Day one, week one and the whales were already putting on a stunning show. After a wet and windy crossing with high seas (due to the winter storm that struck the Eastern seaboard) from the Dominican Republic to the shallow and protected underwater plateau that is the Silver Bank, this season’s first guests were treated to a wonderful display of surface activity from a newly arrived mother humpback, calf and adult male escort.  Mother and baby breached and fin slapped, enjoying the Caribbean sunshine while despite impressive displays of fin slapping and tail breaching, the mother seemed uninterested in the male’s advances and remained close to the tender. This acceptance of us by the mother resulted in everyone having their first unique opportunity to enter the water and see the gentle giants in their natural environment numerous times for both tenders.  By simply floating at the surface and observing the whales passively, termed a “soft-in-water encounter”, our guests get to experience the whales on their terms and in this case the mother’s ease with us led to a fantastic first day.  To see the intimate interaction between a mother and her calf as the baby returns to tuck itself under the pectoral fin of mama after taking a breath at the surface, is a truly emotional and heartwarming sight. With such a relaxed mother and calf and an escort that tolerated our presence, a few of the guests that were initially extremely anxious to get in the water, with help and guidance from the whale crew, forgot their inhibitions and couldn’t wait to get in the water again.

 
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During the week many more encounters provided great surface activity and numerous chances to enter the water, despite the windy conditions. On the final day as the sun came out and the seas calmed we decided to stay out over lunch, so as not to miss any opportunities and boy are we glad we did!!  With a light lunch and plenty of snacks to keep people’s energy up we encountered 3 separate pairs of mothers and calves with surface activity and “soft-in-water” encounters lasting from 10:30 in the morning till 4:30 in the afternoon. We found a mother, calf and escort in the sheltered clear water area where there are hundreds of large coral heads. This is a fantastic place to see the whales under the water as they maneuver between the coral, so graceful in their enormity, you really get a feel for their size; it’s a very humbling and peaceful experience.  In the afternoon the excitement picked up again when we had the season’s first sighting of a rowdy group where typically 2 or more (sometimes as many as 15 or 20) males will jostle and duel to gain access to a potential mate.  On this occasion four whales were involved but we look forward to many more impressive displays as the season unfolds.

 
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Not only was everyone entertained out on the water but also aboard the mother ship, the Turks and Caicos Explorer II, where guests and crew alike were lucky enough to have the musical talents of Blake Miller and Robert Aukerman from Colorado on acoustic guitar and Chicago boy Larry Saint Germain on drums to keep us entertained after a busy day out enjoying the “Whales of the Silver Bank”!

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A fantastic start, looks like things are shaping up for an amazing season!

The Aquatic Adventures team hopes that you are as inspired as we are to help sustain the humpback whale population. Through our partnership with the Center for Coastal Studies, we are helping to gain critical information on these charismatic creatures, and to seek ways to protect and preserve them. To find out more about this effort, join their mailing list or to make a donation, large or small, please visit:

www.coastalstudies.org/aquaticadventures

LIKE us on Facebook
FOLLOW us on Twitter
Learn more about Aquatic Adventures here.

Written by: Pippa Swannell, Aquatic Adventures
Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures