Whales of the Silver Bank - Tom Conlin

humpback whalesI’ve had the privilege of spending 298 weeks working with whales on the Silver Bank. My entire focus is on learning about whale behavior and supplying you with the type of experiences you’re expecting. This experience builds year-to-year and improves our approach techniques and understanding of North Atlantic Humpback Whale behaviors over other operators. As a licensed 1600-ton U.S.C.G. Master, Master Diver Trainer and Advanced Free Diver, I have a thorough understanding of ships, boats and the sea, above and below the surface of the water.

Since 1990, I’ve relentlessly read everything I could get my hands on concerning humpback whales, but my real knowledge stems from spending 298 weeks in the field, watching, listening, and trying to discern the movements, behaviors and attitudes of the North Atlantic Humpback Whale. Recording behaviors and thoughts as they occur has helped me theorize and understand movement, breaching, lob tailing, communications, resting, rowdy groups, courtship and mother/calf interaction. Not to mention behavior changes due to time of season, wind and sea conditions, positions of the moon and the variable weather patterns we experience throughout this time period. This information is passed on to the College of the Atlantic and the Center for Coastal Studies for fluke ID’s and behavioral studies. I digitally record the song of the humpback whales and send these recordings to Dr. Chris Clark, head of the Department of Ornithology at Cornell University. Students of marine sciences at Wheelock College receive three college credits by joining me on a one- week expedition and assisting me in collecting this information as well as fulfilling additional requirements set by the college.

This 27 year period that I have spent on the Silver Bank has given me the opportunity to contribute my work, associate and study with some of the leading organizations and researchers in the Cetacean community as well as working with and providing footage and images to film crews, leading magazines, newspapers and professional photographers from around the world: YONAH (Year of the North Atlantic Humpback, a three year DNA project with researchers from 7 nations), Malcolm Clarke, David McTaggart, Greenpeace International, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Caribbean Tagging Project (2008, 2009), Center for Coastal Studies, College of the Atlantic, Cornell University, Wheelock College, Atlantic Cetacean Research Center, Roger Payne’s Whale Conservation Society, IFAW, Dolphin Research Center, Ashes and Snow (Gregory Colbert), BBC, Howard Hall Productions, Bob Cranston Productions, IMAX, NBC, The Today Show (2 times), MSNBC, 3 separate National Geographic Specials, Disney, Paramount, Crest Films, Segment Films, Sea Cam, 3 separate NHK of Japan specials, Amazing Animals, Discovery, Antenna 3, GBTV, PBS, CBS, ABC, Bloom- berg, UFO and The Sports Channel.

Being responsible for developing whale watching on the Silver Bank has led me in a direction from operator, to naturalist, to being actively involved with the Sanctuary Commission of the “Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic” and the Center for Coastal Studies.

Prior to the 1996 season, the Comision Rectora appointed me as their representative on the Silver Bank. As the person with the most time and experience on the Silver Bank I have been placed in a position to assist the sanctuary commission by providing the proper information needed to improve the guidelines established as well as educate the crew members of the commercial vessels involved. My duties included: The surveillance of all applications in regards to the regulations of the Sanctuary Committee concerning all vessels located on the Silver Bank, assisting professional photographers and film crews, training and assisting all operators, captains and crews in approach and soft-in-water encounter techniques, coordinating and determining the permanent location of anchoring and mooring positions for each vessel in the area and recommending the best mooring system for each site. I was responsible for informing and notifying the captains of all vessels of observations and adoptions of the regulations of the Comision Rectora, as well as, inform- ing and recommending appropriate sanctions and/or withdrawing permits from any violators of the existing regulations. In 2007, I was asked by the Secretary of the Environment to rewrite the regulations, contracts and agreements for all operators and visitors of the Sanctuary. Iím happy to say that everything that I submitted was accepted. In 2008 I was asked to assist NOAA to help place 5 satellite tags on adults at the beginning of the season to help undertand their movements during the mating and calving season. During the 2009 season, I once again assisted NOAA in placing satellite tags on eight adults prior to their migration north. In 2014 the Aquatic Adventures Team was trained by the Center for Coastal Studies through the IWC (International Whaling Commission) to be part of Large Whale Disentanglement Program. In 2015, I partnered with the Center for Coastal Studies to help advance science, conservation and stewardship of an iconic species - the humpback whale. In 2017, I have been placed on the Advisory Board of the Center for Coastal Studies.

On a yearly basis I learn many new insights concerning the behaviors of these magnificent mammals above and below the surface of the water. This year-to-year, day-to-day learning process has enabled me to provide our participants with an unmatched opportunity to experience sensational surface activity in tandem with unbelievable “soft-in-water” encounters.

 

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