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