Aquatic Adventures Whale Tales S27:W9

March 18 – March 25, 2017

Week Nine of our 27th Season  

Photo Credit: Karen Vuolo

We are approaching the tail end of the season here on the Silver Bank, the largest of the Caribbean breeding and calving grounds, ninety nautical miles off shore of the Dominican Republic. However, for this, our ninth week, there were still plenty of humpbacks around and the encounters certainly did not decrease.  Straight away on the very first day we had two very contrasting and special encounters; another visit from our playful friends the spotted dolphins and some of our guests had the chance to enter the water with a snoozing single male whale!

Day two brought mirror calm seas, stunning Dominican sunshine and more incredible whale encounters! We spotted a mother whale with her calf at the surface, ever so slowly moving along. Mother logged at the surface while baby played, gently splashing and rolling at her side. We stayed with the relaxed pair for a while, keeping our distance to gain the confidence of the mother and we were soon able to enter the water for a closer look. Mother and babe appeared completely at ease with our presence and most of the time the mother whale had her eyes shut resting while the calf flopped over her head and gently flapped its pectoral fins. This wonderfully tranquil encounter lasted so long that we actually were able to share these generous whales with our other tender. A “dine and dash” (where one group heads back to the mother ship for a quick lunch while the other enjoys the encounter and vice versa) meant that everyone had the opportunity to be in the water with this peaceful mom and calf. After the whole morning with these sleepy whales and the “dine and dash” the pair began to wake up a little and we were treated to some more energetic surface activity. The mother whale chin breached and baby followed suit, and then they did it again in unison!

Photo Credit: Karen Vuolo

Photo Credit: Karen Vuolo

Photo Credit: Karen Vuolo

Photo Credit: Karen Vuolo

The term chin breach is used when the whale rises up out of the water half way, cups in its ventral pleats and slams its body back down on the surface. This breach makes a lot of noise and is thought to be used for communication, however with mother and calf doing it together it was most likely baby training time and calf was receiving a demonstration from mom. The mother needs to build her calf’s strength, with both swimming and breaching skills, before they embark on the long journey to the northern feeding grounds. The lesson continued with spinning head breaching and lob tailing; it was very cute to watch the young calf’s attempts, barely lifting its little fluke out of the water and splashing it down again, over and over. This entertaining show of surface activity brought our in-water encounter to an end but provided great photographic opportunities before the pair moved on. This generous mother allowed us to stay with her and her calf from 9am until 4:30pm giving us a rare insight into a day in the life of a North Atlantic humpback whale and her babe.

Photo Credit: Karen Vuolo

As well as wonderfully calm encounters like this we have also seen some spectacular surface activity this week. One morning we came across four adult whales in a rowdy group, a female, an escort and two challenging males. The escort blew bubble streams, thought to act as a way to obscure the challenger’s view of the female but could also be an efficiency in breathing allowing the whale to take in a quick breath and return down into the fray with minimal time at the surface. A lot of the action occurred under the water but with the bright sunshine and clear water we could see the massive beasts maneuvering around each other, their bright white pectoral fins clearly visible from above the surface.  All the while the female continued to fin slap, soliciting for more attention, presumably to widen her options for a potential mate!

The wonderful thing about observing nature is its unpredictability and our next encounter was completely different once again. This time we spotted two adults surfacing to breathe. Each time the pair came up for a few breaths between periods of resting below they would do some kind of surface activity, breaching or lob tailing. After a while they calmed down and we slipped into the water. Now, rather than sleeping the female began a ballet of sorts, turning gracefully and curiously cruising by our on looking snorkelers while the male hung around a short distance away. The female did this moving on a few body lengths each time, and in this way all the guests on that tender were able to enter the water several times with her and her escort.  In another encounter with two adults we were treated to some more interesting surface behavior. This time the female rested below while the male performed some spectacular tail breaches and lob tailing. He no doubt also considered our tender to be a distraction for his female as he proceeded to fin slap over and over, more than thirty times, at the surface above her. He did this while rotating, rolling to take a breath every five or six slaps. This was surely an impressive show of testosterone and masculinity to ward off any challengers in the area.

Photo Credit: Karen Vuolo

Photo Credit: Karen Vuolo

This week our guests enjoyed beautiful sunshine and also bravely endured rain and clouds but the awesome encounters, both serenely peaceful and full of high octane action, more than made up for some grey skies. After our last day, with whales breaching on the horizon and rainbows adorning the clouds we headed back to the mother ship for our final beautiful Caribbean sunset of the week!

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

Thanks to all who have generously donated! 

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 S27:W8

March 11 – March 18, 2017

Week Eight of our 27th Season  

Our eighth week out on the Silver Bank got off to a great start with lots of surface activity and pairs of mothers and calves everywhere! At this point in the season there are thousands of humpbacks still here in the calving and breeding grounds, adults still looking to mate and the new crop of 2017 calves growing rapidly into boisterous young acrobats. Even before leaving the mother ship on the first day we were treated to a show of fin slapping and breaching just a short distance off our stern and as we headed out on the tenders we could see whales at the surface all around. As well as the thrill and exhilaration of breaching adults and calves and more fin slapping, we also hoped to encounter calmer, gentler giants more suitable for a “soft in-water encounter”. Sure enough, that first morning out on the Bank, all our guests on both Aquatic Adventures tenders had the opportunity to get into the water with the humpbacks! For all the guests except one repeat visitor this was a first, a bucket list item checked and something that certainly not that many people can say they have done. These first in-water encounters were so very special in their own unique ways, one with a mother, calf and escort and one with a pair of sleeping adults. Your first in-water encounter with a humpback whale is without doubt a moving and memorable experience especially when you consider what a rare privilege it is to meet with such a huge mammal in such a natural and positive way.

Photo Credit: Elmer Doty

Photo Credit: Elmer Doty

Photo Credit: Elmer Doty

Photo Credit: Elmer Doty

As the week went on we saw more and more surface activity, especially from the many mother and calf sets we encountered. One morning we enjoyed impressive shows of breaching from the fast growing calves and their mothers too. Unlike their pod dwelling relatives, humpback whales are not particularly social creatures so with so many whales in one area that morning they did tend to keep moving around. This provided some great top-side photographic opportunities but not necessarily ideal encounters for getting in the water. However in the afternoon we saw another mother, calf pair and this time things were very different. We found the relaxed mama and baby in amongst the coral heads and stayed with them as they slowly maneuvered around the mighty pinnacles and out into more open water. It didn’t take long to gain the mother’s confidence and with her and her calf so at ease we were able to enter the water and observe them from only a few feet away. Mother rested below while the young calf rose to the surface every three to four minutes to breathe. Each time the mother whale gently rose to the surface herself she would stay there for several minutes, logging and taking breaths while the baby rolled and lolled over her head in a very affectionate behavior known as the “nose push”.  We called over our other tender and each group of guests took turns being with the whales. The encounter went on for over an hour and a half and at first the baby whale was quite shy, staying on the other side of its mother but he soon found his confidence, coming a little closer to our excited snorkelers with each breath. The young whale even rolled onto his back and opened up his mouth, taking in water and extending his ventral pleats!  Who could say if he was practicing a feeding technique? Or just having fun! After that the calf began lob tailing and we got out of the water, leaving the mom and baby to go on their way.

During lunch the next day we spotted some whales, a mother, calf and escort, only thirty feet from the mother ship. The whales appeared to be hanging around so on an impulse we decided to cut the lunch break short and find out if they would settle for us. Mothers with calves are often accompanied by escorts and even though the female most likely has no interest in mating while she has a calf to look after, the males will stick around, for a while at least, in the hope that she will. This female managed to shake off the unwanted attentions of the escort and as we had hoped she would, she and her calf settled down to rest. Not only did this generous pair allow us to enter the water with them but it turned out to be the very same mother and calf from the previous day!  Coincidence? Or could it be that, in some way, this whale sought our company?  Who can say, but either way, we were overjoyed to have the opportunity to spend more time with her and her cute little boy. This time the conditions could not have been more perfect. Calm water, beautiful visibility, a coral backdrop and two beautiful humpback whales snoozing in the afternoon sun. For more than three hours the mother and calf rested in a sleepy state, sometimes shallow with babe rolling around on mom’s back and sometimes both logging at the surface, eyes shut tight, sleeping, completely unaffected by our presence. With encounters like this we are reminded just how lucky we are to be allowed to enter into the humpback’s domain and spend time with these remarkable creatures.

Mother, CalfMother, Calf Rolling

If to be in the water with humpback whales was on the bucket list then for sure to hear a singing whale must also be up there and some of our lucky guests this week got to check that one too! More often than not, singing whales have been found to be lone males, (although interestingly on a couple of occasions we have seen them accompanied by a mother and calf) so when we spotted a single blow we had our fingers crossed. Sure enough as the scout slipped into the water they came up straight away with a big smile and the announcement of “we have a singer!”. All the guests on the tender excitedly but stealthily entered the water and were able to hear and feel the enigmatic tones of these mysterious mammals. This encounter may have only been a couple of minutes long but to be able to say you have been in the water floating over a singing humpback whale is a very special and rare thing.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we had the opportunity to swim with North Atlantic spotted dolphins, only our second sighting of the season! The pod of twenty or so darted and buzzed around our swimmers and the tender for about ten minutes. This offered our guests the chance to let go and express their excitement with whoops and whistles, in a stark contrast to the peaceful and awe inspiring encounters with the graceful giants of the Silver Bank.  After a week of such incredible, extended encounters with mothers and calves these curious and playful dolphins really were the icing on the cake!!

Dolphins

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

Thanks to all who have generously donated! 

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 S27:W7

March 4 – March 11, 2017

Week Seven of our 27th Season  

For our seventh week of the season here on the Silver Bank we were very happy to be joined by familiar faces with over half the group being repeat guests. For many, both returning and first timers, their journey here to the Silver Bank could be compared to the North Atlantic humpback’s annual migration as they were visiting from the east coast of America and could have quite possibly seen some of the very same whales in their feeding grounds. Our visitors who had already seen the whales feeding in the cold northern waters were excited to have the opportunity to get up close and personal and see them under the water, truly in the whales’ domain. Sure enough our generous and curious giants here in the Silver Bank did not disappoint.


After a frustratingly windy start to the week, the elements finally blew in our favor and we ended up having a wonderful rest of the week out with the whales. As soon as we left the mother ship one sunny blustery morning we were rewarded with the sight of two adult whales displaying their flukes and heading under the waves for a nap. We took the opportunity to slip into the water and watch from above as the male and female rested below. This relaxed couple slept for many breathing cycles, each time rising and passing close by our on looking snorkelers, to surface and take a few breaths before returning to their slumber just a couple of body lengths away. After the guests on one of our Aquatic Adventures tenders had spent some time with the sleepy pair, we then switched out and our other tender of excited snorkelers entered the water to experience, for most of them, their first ever underwater sighting of a humpback whale. And for one lucky individual this trip gave them their first ever sighting of any whale! What a way to start! The female stayed below while the male would encircle her and our tender on the look out for any possible challengers and during one of these “circling the wagon” as we call it, our snorkelers in the water were treated to an impressive and surprising sight; he was flaunting his penis!! That’s definitely not something we see every day!! We got to spend most of the morning, over three hours, with these relaxed whales.


Meanwhile in another area of the Silver Bank, the other tender was experiencing more close encounters of the whale kind! We spotted a female with an escort and two challenging males. The female seemed quite interested in our tender and circled round several times gently fin slapping while the males sorted out their differences! We can’t tell exactly what goes on under the water in situations like these but from what we saw at the surface it certainly appeared that the original escort managed to see off the two challengers without too much effort and the pair carried on their way. Shortly after this encounter we came across another pair of adults and the female was again quite curious. While the male kept his distance the female held herself vertical in the water with just the tips of her fluke breaking the surface only a few feet from the tender. Our snorkelers were able to slip into the water for a close up view of this elegant whale as she held her intriguing pose for a few minutes before moving away.


That afternoon we were very fortunate to encounter a mother whale with her young calf. The pair seemed to be enjoying the calmer seas with the mother resting at the surface while the baby played around her, lying belly up on mom’s head with its little pectoral fins outstretched soaking up the sunshine. When the mother dropped below the surface for a twenty minute snooze we entered the water and quietly approached. We watched as the baby rose to the surface every three to four minutes and took a few breaths over mother’s head before returning below and resting under the mother’s chin.


What makes these trips out to the Silver Bank so very special is the fact that we get to see these beautiful, intelligent and curious giants in their own domain. And in the domain of wild animals Mother Nature is in control so we appreciate every day that we can spend out on the water. In the hope of making up for the time we lost at the beginning of the week due to the windy weather we offered our guests an extra morning out on the tenders and the opportunity for some more time with the whales. Sure enough, Mother Nature smiled upon us giving us calm seas, warm tropical sunshine and a final whale encounter better than we ever could have hoped for!

Photo Credit: John King

Photo Credit: John King

During our extra morning there were mothers and calves at every turn however it must have been exercise time for the calves as they all seemed to be busy traversing the Bank and honing their new found breaching skills! In the last hour we found a mother, calf and escort resting in an area of the Silver Bank where there are hundreds of coral pinnacles. We were so grateful when the trio decided to settle in this sheltered area allowing our guests the unique opportunity to see humpback whales in beautiful clear shallow waters amidst a back drop of coral heads and sandy patches. The mother and escort stayed shallow while the calf swam and played around the adult whales and close by our excited snorkelers. They were settled long enough for us to be able to share the encounter with our other tender, so with each group taking their turn, everyone had the chance to enter the water for this stunning encounter. The lively little calf definitely stole the show and after twenty minutes or so, with a sudden burst of energy she took off away from the adults and our guests and did a full spinning head breach! As the mother moved on after the youngster with the escort in tow we headed back to the mother ship and started on our transit back to the Dominican Republic. On our way back we saw plenty of surface activity from the whales, breaching and lob tailing and fin slapping and even a pod of spinner dolphins! It really was a fantastic morning and a perfect end to our seventh week here on the Silver Bank.

Photo Credit: John Granata

Photo Credit: John Granata

Photo Credit: John Granata

Photo Credit: John Granata

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

Thanks to all who have generously donated! 

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 S27:W6

February 25  – March 4, 2017

Week Six of our 27th Season  

As we enter mid season here on the Silver Bank, North Atlantic humpback whales are still coming down to the warm Caribbean waters of the Dominican Republic. The females that came here to give birth are now spending more and more time exercising and training their energetic and precocious young. Every day of this sixth week of the season we saw several sets of mothers and calves, some calm, allowing us to have treasured in-water encounters and some active, giving us unforgettable shows of surface activity.

Right from the get go, on our first afternoon we saw the blows of two whales, the full and puffy cloud of condensation shot ten feet into the sky of a mother alongside the distinctive little baby puff of her young calf. As we tentatively approached, both baby and mother did a full spinning head breach and then the rambunctious little whale calf continued to breach over and over again giving our new guests the show of a lifetime within their first few minutes out on the tenders. Why a humpback breaches has always been very much speculation and theory however in a situation like this it certainly looks as if the mother is demonstrating the maneuver to her growing babe and the calf is practicing again and again! It also looks pretty fun!   It wasn’t long before the young calf needed a bit of a break and while the mother slowly swam and logged at the surface, the baby rolled and flopped adorably over its mother’s head in a behavior known as the nose push. When the mother dropped below the surface to rest the calf tucked itself under her chin. At that point we took the opportunity for our guide and guests to slip into the water just in time to see the youngster come up for one breath before they both moved on a few body lengths away. That first afternoon we were with the same mother and calf pair for over three hours and during that time she attracted two different escorts. The mother was only interested in nursing and training her calf and showed little interest in the males that would swim close by and circle the pair, sometimes positioning themselves between the mother and our tender. In between rest stops on mom’s nose the baby continued to breach over and over and over. We went on to see lots of surface activity from more pairs of mothers and calves making for a fantastic first day!

The next morning we were again rewarded with another mother and calf encounter. This time there was no escort in tow and the relaxed mother allowed our lucky snorkelers to enter the water several times. The pair was resting in an area of the Silver Bank protected from the elements by many coral pinnacles making a beautiful backdrop for the intimate encounter as the sun shone on the turquoise water. In between the “soft in-water” sessions we looked on from the tender while mother and babe enjoyed the sunshine, baby gently flapping around at the surface and over mom’s nose. We were with this generous mother and playful calf most of the morning and all our guests on both Aquatic Adventures tenders had the chance to be in the water with them.

This week we were also fortunate to have our first “in-water” encounter with off shore Atlantic spotted dolphins! The day started out with yet another mother and calf sighting but we soon realized that they were not going to settle as four adult whales came through the area – two challengers in pursuit of a female and escort. As they passed by we noticed the dolphins heading towards our tender. Swimming with dolphins is so much fun and such a different experience to being with whales. Rather than calm, quiet, tranquil encounters with gentle giants, it’s fast paced, exhilarating and playful! The dozen or so dolphins were attracted to the sound of the engines, bow riding and circling the tender but once the people got in the water the dolphins swam around and dived back and forth with our snorkelers for twenty minutes or so. Definitely a fun way to exercise!! While we were in the water with the dolphins the four adult humpbacks from earlier cruised by below us and carried on off to another area of the bank! In the water with dolphins and humpback whales!! Not many people can say they’ve done that!!

With barely enough time to dry off we next encountered two adult humpbacks sleeping together. The female would stay down for approximately twenty four minutes while the male would nap for a shorter time rising every so often to do perimeter checks for challenging males in the area. As the female rose from her slumber each time she would turn towards us and spread her pectoral fins, oh so gracefully.   We were in the water with this sleepy pair for two breathing cycles and after the first ascent the couple actually circled around and returned to swim by our lucky snorkelers twice before moving on a few body lengths.

During this baby boom week we witnessed plenty of surface activity, far on the horizon and close up. Whether it was the young calves honing their skills or the mothers attempting to control their rapidly growing babies or the males displaying their prowess and worthiness to father the next generation, the result was a spectacular demonstration of breaching repertoire from these ‘acrobats of the sea’.

Photo Credit: Sheila Jenson

Photo Credit: Sheila Jenson

On Wednesday we were again in the water with mothers and calves. However one encounter with humpbacks is very different to the next and these two were like night and day. In the morning the calf was rambunctious and frisky, making wide circles far from her mother and giving our snorkelers exciting close-up views. In the afternoon the pace calmed and we had a forty five minute long and peaceful in-water encounter with a mother and young calf as the mother rested below and babe rose every couple of minutes before returning to rest under mom’s chin. This kind of experience is a real treat as it gives you time to really soak up the tranquil atmosphere and contemplate just how unique a place this really is.

On the last day of this charter, after, yes you guessed it, another mother and calf encounter first thing in the morning, the afternoon brought us the opportunity to experience something completely different.  Humpback calves will stay with their mothers for up to four months here in the breeding and calving grounds and after traveling back to the northern feeding grounds together they will stay a total of about eleven months before they begin to fend for themselves. Once the young whales reach sexual maturity at around four years of age they will return to the same breeding grounds but that’s not to say that they won’t come down a couple of years early to see how it’s all done! That afternoon we came across a single sleepy juvenile female, possibly just two or three years old. Size is not a reliable measure of age. Like humans, humpbacks can be small or big no matter how old they are, however we could assume she was young as it is rare to see a female without an escort if she is sexually mature. This sleeping beauty also appeared to still be perfecting her buoyancy skills as every time she swam down to nap she would swim on a body length or two and then slowly rise again to the surface and float there for a few minutes while taking breaths. Up, down, up, down, the pretty young whale continued in this way for over an hour completely at ease with the on looking snorkelers. If this were not entertainment enough we could also hear whale song the whole time we were in the water and it was getting steadily louder and louder. We couldn’t help but wonder if this sleeping beauty was drawn to the sound and sure enough not more than ten minutes after leaving the immature female we located the singer. For the third time this season all our incredibly lucky guests got to experience not only the 2017 humpback number one tune in person, but thanks to the keen ear of Denise (Aquatic Adventures tender captain and whale guide of the Silver Bank of ten years), we were able to locate the lone singer and look down on him from above as his melody vibrated through our bodies.

Photo Credit: Jodi Axel

Photo Credit: Jodi Axel

Photo Credit: Jodi Axel

Photo Credit: Jodi Axel

Photo Credit: Sheila Jenson

Photo Credit: Sheila Jenson

With the song of the Silver Bank still in our heads and our hearts, we headed back to the mother ship to watch the sunset and look back over another fantastic week with the whales.

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

 

Thanks to all who have generously donated! 

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 S27:W5

February 18 – February 25, 2017

Week Five of our 27th Season  

Photo Credit: Christine Olson

What a fantastic start to our fifth week here on the Silver Bank, the largest calving and breeding grounds for the North Atlantic humpback whales in the Caribbean. On our first afternoon out on the water we were encouraged to see plenty of blows and breaches out on the horizon and before long we glimpsed the dorsal of a whale silently slip under the surface just a few hundred feet from our tender. As we waited patiently for the lone whale to resurface we started to notice some very faint squeaks and whoops and realized we were listening to a singer! Humpback whales have the widest frequency range of any marine animal and their song can carry for miles underwater so it is not surprising that as we came close we could hear it above water too. This one-man-traveling-band however was swimming while he was singing and we were unable to pin point his position and get into the water.  The next set of whales we found were a mother and calf that we, the crew, recognized from two weeks previously because of some distinctive scarring on the mother’s front dorsal. We hoped that this relaxed mother would remember us and honor us and our new guests with a view of her beautiful baby once again. We observed the mother logging at the surface for a while with her baby playing around her and resting affectionately over her head before they both dived down to rest. At this point our scout slipped into the water to find out if she would tolerate a few spectators and luckily she seemed totally comfortable with our on looking snorkelers. While mama napped below babe came to the surface to breathe, staying more or less over it’s mother’s head and spent several minutes playing at the surface providing our enchanted guests with (for most of them) their first very special close up underwater view of a humpback whale. This wonderful encounter might have gone on for much longer if it hadn’t been for a pair of adult whales that passed close by and caused the mama and baby to move on… so yes, believe it or not, sometimes it is possible to have too many whales!!!

Photo Credit: Christine Olson

Photo Credit: Christine Olson

Photo Credit: John Pierce

The next morning all our guests had the chance to be in the water with the whales. We came across a sleeping pair of adults, a female with an escort. They would stay down for around sixteen minutes often sleeping in what appeared to be an affectionate pose, nose to nose and when they rose to the surface to breathe our lucky guests were treated to an up close view as the whales cruised by before settling down again a few body lengths away. Both tenders rotated to be in the water with the pair and everyone had a chance to see these mighty beasts in their sleepy slumber state for four or five breathing cycles, more than an hour.

Photo Credit: Christine Olson

Photo Credit: John Pierce

That afternoon the action picked up considerably! As soon as we left the mother ship after lunch we saw a blow not far away. We approached and waited and only a few seconds later, BAM! A full spinning head breach less than a hundred feet from our little boat! And then another, and another!! The two adult whales that we had seen that very morning had woken up with a burst of energy! The spinning head breach is what humpback whales get their reputation as the “acrobats of the sea” for. They will haul almost all of their body out of the water (with really very little “run-up” needed), throw out their fifteen foot long pectoral fins to create the spin and slam their forty five tons down onto the water surface, creating a massive splash! After maybe five or six of these spinning head breaches they moved on to chin breaches. These take less energy but create a tremendous noise. And finally both whales did a couple of tail breaches too! After this excitement the couple calmed down and continued on their way, leaving our guests and crew aboard the tender awe struck with this impressive show and the photographers in the group overjoyed! What a performance!

As the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up we headed back to the mother ship for a hot shower and happy hour, content with our day on the water. However the whales had other plans and shortly after tying up the tenders we spotted three adult whales at the bow. The charismatic trio, almost certainly a female with an escort and challenger, entertained us for more than an hour with a beautiful ballet of spy hops, twirling and rolling around our mooring balls. It is remarkable to see such majestic giants, maneuvering so gracefully and showing such interest in our boat and on looking passengers. Once again we were stunned to see such a relaxed group of adult whales and felt extremely privileged that they had chosen to play and explore around our ship! As the sun set and the whales moved on we were left with a profound sense of love and gratitude for our giant friends here on the Silver Bank.

Our penultimate day of this week was again spectacular! We started out with a mother, calf and escort only five minutes after leaving in the tender. At first all was calm and tranquil and we entered the water for a short time to see the baby tentatively rise to the surface and take a breath. The mother and escort came up a short while after and moved on a few body lengths. We then watched from the tender as the young calf rolled and played around it’s mother’s head while the escort made a big circle around the couple – a perimeter check for any incoming challengers. Our attention returned to the mom and calf while the babe did what is undoubtedly the cutest behavior of all – 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. However when we see this behavior reenacted well after birth up until  the calf is at least a few weeks old we can be sure that it is a comforting and bonding experience for both the young whale and new mother. It was after this that we noticed the escort had returned and his behavior had changed. He was moving faster and blowing bubble streams. Two challengers had arrived. Our Aquatic Adventures tender stayed with the five whales as they picked up the pace and the escort fended off the challengers. When males are fighting over a female with young, even though it can get very violent between the males, it is rare that either mother or calf is harmed. This mother and calf began to travel quite fast and the baby took advantage of it’s mother’s slipstream, spending time on her back to conserve energy. After a while the challenging males moved away from the mom and calf and we did too to give them their space and time to calm down after the rowdiness!

We didn’t have to wait long before our next encounter! Straight away we found two adults close to our mother ship, the Turks and Caicos Explorer II. We soon realized that this was the same female that was showing great interest in us, our tenders and our mother ship from earlier in the week and quite possibly from the previous week as well! Whether it was the hum of the generator or the purr of our four stroke engines or just the excited squeals of our snorkelers, something was drawing this curious whale to us and we were happy to have the opportunity to enter the water and see her again. The female danced, slowing turning, arching her back and stretching out her pectoral fins, displaying her underside. At the surface she logged and rolled and gently swished her fluke. Just feet below the snorkelers she opened her mouth wide extending her ventral pleats and a few times she released air from her blow holes creating a stillness at the surface just like scuba diver’s bubbles. We can only speculate what unusual behaviors like this represent but the more time we spend with these mysterious animals the more we can hope to understand them and learn from them. This inquisitive female spent more than an hour circling the mother ship and spy hopping only feet away from the back deck where we threw out a line from the stern so the snorkelers from each of our tenders could take turns to float and watch in awe. For our first time guests this indescribable experience really helped to give perspective, seeing these huge animals so close and so completely at ease in their domain. For returning guests, for some of whom this was their eighth time to the Silver Bank, it really brought home the sensation that these whales really are individuals with different personalities and characters and that they do have a genuine interest in the friendly humans that come to visit.  During all of this the male escort was doing big perimeter checks around the female and the boat, occasionally cruising by and eventually managed to lure the female away to rest. We located them again a short distance from the mother ship and each group got in the water one more time to observe them sleeping before they headed off to another part of the Bank.  Whether these two whales mated or not we will never know but we will certainly be keeping our eyes peeled for this intriguing young female over the next few weeks.

Looking back over the last five days we had some incredible and unique encounters that more than made up for one day of bad weather. Everyone including our repeat guests went away with wonderful memories and photos and plans to return to see our majestic giants of the Silver Bank once again.

Photo Credit: John Pierce

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

Thanks to all who have generously donated! 

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Written by: Pippa Swannell, Aquatic Adventures

Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures