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!
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.
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