Aquatic Adventures Whale Tales S26:W9

March 19 ~ March 26, 2016
Week Nine of our 26th Season

As the weeks roll on and we approach the end of the Humpback whale mating and calving season here on the Silver Bank, 90 miles offshore of the Dominican Republic, the very special and unique encounters with our acrobatic friends have not diminished in any way. In fact the excitement, certainly top side, has been increasing as the need to breed before returning to the feeding grounds becomes all the more urgent! Mothers and calves have also this week been providing us with some spectacular shows as the calves continue to grow and gain strength. One morning we encountered a mother with her baby who proved to be quite the handful for the new mum but to the delight of our on looking guests, the calf, full of the joys of spring, breached thirty five times in a row! A new calf will do this quite often when they start to realize their abilities and want to practice over and over; simply because they can! Wonderful photographic opportunities and a great way to start the week off with a bang!

Not only was the surface activity spectacular but our fortunate guests got to witness something quite unusual this week when we encountered two whales at the surface that appeared a little different…they were very small! Most of the North Atlantic Humpbacks that migrate down to the Silver Bank are here for the very specific reason of calving or  mating. Humpbacks reach sexual maturity at around four years of age. Although it is difficult to age a humpback whale without proper DNA testing, these two youngsters could not have been more than one or two years old and so their reason for being here in the Dominican Republic was not so apparent. Like some of the dancing whales we have been fortunate to see this season, these whales could have been a male and a female engaging in some kind of pre-mating flirtation but to our casual observers it appeared more like a couple of young friends “hanging out”. The whales rolled and bobbed at the surface for more than three hours close to our tenders, allowing our excited snorkelers to watch from a few meters away as they spy-hopped and gently slashed their tails in the surf. This interesting encounter reminds us that we are still guessing at the meaning of much of the behavior we see from these fascinating creatures and that we still have so much to learn about these mysterious giants.

We may travel from all over the world to see the Whales of the Silver Bank, but occasionally we do see other marine mammals here too! This week we were treated to an encounter with a twenty strong pod of Atlantic spotted dolphins! These wonderfully playful and curious animals delighted in swimming and jumping around our tender and snorkelers, allowing yet another rare and special opportunity to experience wild animals in their natural environment.

 

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:W8

March 12 ~ March 19, 2016
Week Eight of our 26th Season  

This all singing, all dancing week on the Silver Bank got off to a great start and our guests had no idea just how lucky they were when the very first whale we encountered turned out to be a singer! For almost all of our guests, this was the first time they had heard a Humpback whale sing and everyone was fascinated by the complexity and range of sounds produced by the lone male who was most likely searching for a mate. The Humpback’s song is usually around twenty five minutes long and some have been recorded singing it over and over for more than twenty four hours. Some singers will remain in one place while they sing, rising to the surface to breathe every 15 minutes or so and returning to the same spot, while others will slowly swim while they sing. With this whale we were able to float over the musical giant for two breath cycles before he moved on to serenade in a different area of the Bank.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The good fortune continued when the very next morning we encountered another not so common phenomenon, dancing whales! Although this season we have actually been very lucky to have encountered several sets of dancers, it is always a privilege to see this beautiful behavior between a male and female whale. More often than not, the female will lead the graceful dance while the male simply stays close by but on this occasion the male appeared to be posturing along with the female and at one point the female held motionless, head down in the water while the male circled around her. It was a stunningly beautiful show and one we will never forget.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As the week went on with beautiful sunshine and calm seas, the whale encounters heated up with four sightings of large rowdy groups. As the season goes by and many females start their journey back to the northern feeding grounds, the numbers of males fighting over potential mates increase and the rowdy groups this week were larger and more violent than before, providing us with some spectacular surface activity! It is an awe-inspiring sight to see eight fully grown male whales all come to the surface at once in a high speed race to defend their position next to a female. As the whales surfaced we saw bubble streams, lunge breaches and tail breaches as displays of virility and strength. We were also lucky enough to see a behavior called the “S curve” which is when a whale moving at high speed suddenly throws out their pectoral fins, effectively “slamming on the brakes”, and maneuvers to displace a challenging whale from their position next to the female. During one rowdy group encounter this week, two whales actually slammed into each other, dorsal to dorsal as they surfaced only a hundred feet from one of the tenders! Watery battles like this can go on for hours and it is common to see bloody tubercles and damaged dorsal fins as evidence that the fight was going on a lot longer before we came across them!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With the beautiful singer, the graceful dancers and the excitement of the rowdy groups, the week was made even more perfect by in-water encounters with a mother and calf and a pair of sleeping whales. Our guests really couldn’t have wished for a better week out on the Silver Bank!

 

 

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:W7

March 5 – March 12, 2016
Week Seven of our 26th Season  

Humpback whales are found in every major ocean on our planet and our guests this week were also once again drawn from far and wide to see the graceful giants of the Silver Bank, coming from as far as Germany, Switzerland and Russia as well as the relatively short hop down from the United States. As the new mothers and calves are preparing for their long journey up to the northern feeding grounds, we were treated on this seventh week of the season to plenty of exciting surface activity and in-water encounters from several sets of mums and babes.

12835014_10207170202948083_1473309223_n

© Virginia Huang

Well over halfway through the season now and this year’s new calves are growing fast! Consuming approximately fifty gallons of milk a day, putting on 100 lbs and growing an inch a day, the tiny newborns are becoming big babies right before our eyes! Not only have we seen them grow dramatically over the past weeks but also have witnessed their increasing confidence; whereas before they would stick close to mum, they are now venturing further and further afield, playing and exploring the shallow calm waters of the Silver Bank and proving to be quite the handful for their mothers. Right from the start on day one this week we encountered a mother and calf fin slapping and lob tailing in the Caribbean sunshine.

_3099844

© Virginia Huang

As we watched from the tender, the excited youngster would breach further and further away from mum until eventually she would have to call the precocious calf back. To do this, the mother needs to create a loud sound; slapping their fins and flukes on the surface of the water will usually work but if the babe is lost in the excitement of their new found skills, only one action is going to be loud enough and that is the maneuver that Humpbacks are famous for, the breach! This mother found that two consecutive spinning head breaches, where she would lunge nearly her entire body out of the water, fling her pectoral fins out to spin and slap down on the surface, was just the right measure to alert her distracted calf while our lucky guests enjoyed the show from only a hundred feet away!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Second only to the spinning head breach for noise level is the chin breach. This breach is often carried out after a spinning head breach as it requires less energy but still makes an impressive impact. By lunging straight up out of the water until half the body is exposed and then folding forward whilst cupping their ventral pleats, a loud hollow sound is produced. We saw plenty of this behavior too this week.

Silver Bank-4196

Silver Bank-2440

As the calves get stronger and are able to travel for longer periods, the mothers will start their migration north, and as the numbers of females here on the Silver Bank decrease, so the eagerness of the males to mate increases. With this higher ratio of males to females, the likelihood of finding rowdy groups improves. Mid week we encountered one such rowdy group made up of six individuals. In an impressive display of testosterone and virility, five male whales, looking to impress the lone female, lunge breached and tail breached in a high speed battle, on and below the surface. We watched for an hour and a half as the drama unfolded, but rowdy groups such as this can go on for many hours until one male finally secures position next to the female as her escort in the hope of mating with her.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All this excitement top side was unaffected by increasing winds as the week went on but despite the choppy seas, our guests were still able to spend plenty of time in the water with the peaceful giants once they calmed down; twice with sleeping whales and again with two more mother and calf pairs.

DCIM100GOPROG0021487.

© Virginia Huang

12084018_10207170204348118_746526405_n

© Virginia Huang

After another week of beautiful sunrises and sunsets out on the Silver Bank, we return to the Dominican Republic to drop off our guests with their memories and hearts full of wonderful whale encounters and with a new appreciation for these most enigmatic and graceful creatures.

 

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:W6

February 27 ~ March 5, 2016
Week Six of our 26th Season  

The North Atlantic Humpback Whales travel great distances every year from the feeding grounds of the North East coast of the United States, Iceland, Newfoundland and even Norway to the Silver Bank, approximately 90 miles north of the Dominican Republic. Like many migrating animals the reason is unknown but is surely for a combination of benefitting factors such as a safe environment with no predators to give birth and rear their young and warm waters to rid themselves of the cold water parasites from northern seas. But no matter what the reason, thousands of whales make their way here, enduring weeks or months of fasting in order to do so. Those that are not giving birth this season will have only one thing on their minds and that is procreation. Adult male Humpbacks will travel here with the intention of mating with as many females as possible in order to pass their genes on to the next generation. Young males will travel here to learn from the older males and perfect their techniques in fighting in order to be able to compete with the older males when they return as sexually mature adults. The females, however, just need to get pregnant and once they do they will hastily return to the productive and nutrient rich waters of the north, but that is not to say that some won’t take their time in choosing a suitable mate!

© Susan Bird

© Susan Bird

Almost all of the Humpback whale behaviors we encounter on the Silver Bank are in some way associated with mating, whether it is soliciting for a mate by fin slapping or singing, asserting dominance over other whales in order to impress a potential mate by breaching and lob tailing or fighting to secure position next to a potential mate by warding off challenging whales.

So far this year we have been extremely lucky to encounter many whales displaying the behavior we associate with pre-mating courtship, dancing. And this sixth week of the season was exceptional! On three consecutive days we came across the same female, identifiable by a distinctive scar on her ventral side, and each time she was with a different escort! She was certainly taking her time allowing the male humpbacks of the Silver Bank to show off their stuff and prove to her that they should be the one she should choose.  Each time we encountered the female she would begin her gentle and sultry display right under and around our tenders almost as if she were flirting with both the escort and us! Usually the male escort would simply tolerate her curiosity in us and stay with her but keep his distance, circling every so often to carry out a perimeter check for potential challenging males. However on one occasion the escort joined in with the playful female and once again we were treated to a rare and unique ballet where both male and female turned and pirouetted in unison.  This graceful and beautiful display gave us a privileged insight into the whales’ private lives, not only allowing us to observe them passively in their own environment but also to be invited into their intimate performance as they interacted with us, expertly maneuvering and gliding through the water only a few feet from the awe-inspired guests.  It was unanimous amongst the guests and crew alike that this last suitor, with his patience and artistic flare should be her choice of partner!

© Susan Bird

© Susan Bird

Silver Bank-2004

Silver Bank-1984

Silver Bank-1918

With Humpback whales being as large and powerful as they are; adults measuring between 40 and 45 feet in length and weighing in at between 30 and 40 tons, when interactions become a little heated, we of course cannot enter the water, content to enjoy the top-side show and awesome photographic opportunities. On one such occasion this week we encountered an amorous trio of whales where a female had attracted the attentions of two males. While the curious female stayed close to our tender, the escort and challenging whale displayed their prowess with tail slashes and trumpet blows much to the delight of our onlooking guests. A trumpet blow is when a whale constricts their blow holes whilst exhaling to produce a loud, hollow note to demonstrate power and aggression much like the roar of a lion or the trumpet of an elephant.

On top of all this action and romance, our already overjoyed passengers experienced great surface activity as well as the chance to spend time in the water with sleeping whales and two very special encounters with mothers and calves.  It truly is a privilege every time a mother gains our confidence and allows us the great honor of watching over her calf while she rests below. If you were to ask for the most treasured memory of those who have been fortunate enough to be in the water with a humpback whale, the answer would undoubtedly be a mother and calf encounter. There is nothing quite like witnessing so intimately the bond between a new mum and babe.

Silver Bank-1343

This mother whale with the disfigured fluke has been identified as “Victim” from the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue. She is often sighted by whale watchers out of Bar Harbor, ME and Brier Island, Nova Scotia as well as on the Silver Bank, with her earliest sighting possibly in 1988! Recent sightings with a calf: 2011, 2014 & 2016 (Sighting data sourced from citizen science accounts on Facebook & Flikr)Silver Bank-1729

Silver Bank-1255

**Whale ID update** On returning to port after this fabulous week we were able to get online and discovered that our beautiful dancing female that we spent so much time with this week could be positively identified as the same whale we encountered in week four, dancing with another escort! It would appear that she really is quite choosy! She has already been nicknamed (an official name has not been given to this particular whale) “Mojo” by whale watch operators out of Virginia Beach and has been sighted in Newfoundland since at least 2008! It’s so wonderful to make the connections, and know that our Silver Bank whales are making their migrations safely year after year! Here’s hoping that we see “Mojo” next year, perhaps with a new calf!

 

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