February 1 – February 8, 2014
The Silver Bank is named after the Spanish galleons who relinquished their precious cargo to the area’s extensive reefs. While treasure hunting on the bank continues to this day, the area’s true richness is biological: from late January to mid April the Silver Bank plays host to 5000-7000 humpback whales, who come to calve and breed in the area’s warm waters. It is not known exactly why these massive animals undertake such an extensive migration from their North Atlantic feeding grounds (not all whales calve in warm waters; therefore possible explanations for the journey include ridding themselves of cold-water parasites). It is
known that they return yearly to the location of their birth, a phenomenon known as maternal-directed fidelity.
An increasingly healthy Atlantic population of humpbacks therefore means plenty of wintertime action at the calving grounds of the Silver Bank, and this week certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Our week starts off on a good note – literally – during a guest encounter with a singing whale. Whales often sing positioned head down in the water column, tail fluke towards the surface, allowing us to listen from directly above. It is not entirely known whether both sexes regularly sing or what the purpose of the songs are, but we do that they are dynamic, changing in increments each year. Their songs are alternately longing and mournful, exuberant and playful, and are broadcast for miles through the watery medium. Not audible above the surface (except through the boat hull), the songs nevertheless seem to come from everywhere at once below the sea, reverberating off a swimmer’s body and wrapping him in sound.
Following the encounter with the singer, the week just keeps getting more magical. Intermittent rain squalls bring cooler temps and a wealth of rainbows, some arcing complete (and double) from the horizon and back. Mother and calf encounters are frequent this week, with a few being particularly lengthy and impressive. By midweek, guests are treated to a nearly 3 hour encounter with a patient mom, calf, and escort trio. Baby is quite curious, approaching repeatedly within feet of us, while mom rests below. Escort is cooperative as well, allowing for repetitive rounds of baby surfacing and circling towards the group. With such close proximity and decent visibility, guests capture some outstanding underwater photographs.
© Jennifer Sargeant
The day after our fantastic interaction with mother and calf, we are treated to an in-water encounter with a pair of dancers
. Dancing is a term for two whales engaged in (what we presume is) courtship display, and is one of the most remarkable sights one can encounter on the Silver Bank. The partners intertwine in elaborate synchrony, at first hesitantly, and later with increasing intimacy. They do not often touch at this stage, preferring the drama of display. And what a display it is! We spend at least 30 minutes with the pair, and then are joined by a challenger. In seconds, the romance turns to chaos as escort and challenger compete for the affections of the female. We move out of the water for now, but are still witness to some great rowdy group behavior at the surface.*Here is a video showing a single female whale “dancing”: Dancer
The action rarely slows from here, with a number of sleepers granting some close encounters and some very obliging mothers and calves. There is a noticeable uptick in the amount of rowdy group behavior, with several spectacular breaches right next to the tender. Looking forward to seeing what next week brings!
© Lorenzo Martinez
Check back soon for week 3!
Written by: Lisa LaPointe, Aquatic Adventures
Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures