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.
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.
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!!
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