February 7 ~ February 14, 2015
Dance Like Nobody’s Watching
Humpback whales live largely mysterious lives, their watery world beyond easy observation. Even gathered in the clear waters of the Silver Bank, they maintain many of their secrets. No human has seen humpback mating, and none has seen a humpback birth. The fast-paced competitive battles that precede mating and the intimacies of courtship are more obvious, but even these behaviors often escape obvious interpretation. Nevertheless, they are fascinating to watch, and this week on the Silver Bank we are privileged to have ample opportunity.
An early encounter with a rowdy group demonstrates the violent behavior often seen with humpback mate competition. Once upon the group, we are able to maintain position in its midst, little distinguishable from the enormous animals arcing around us. Faces and fins are bloodied as one male after another muscles his considerable weight into another, all fast in pursuit of the lovely lady in the lead. The action is nearly continuous for over an hour as males enter and leave the fray, and then just as quickly it is disrupted when the group intercepts a mother, calf and escort. The action quiets and the whales disperse, scarred dorsal fins of the males in sharp contrast to the unmarred ones of the fleeing female and her tiny calf.
A second “rowdy” group spotted this week shows not all such affairs are violent though: this group of five whales (likely 4 males and a female) is more sensuous than rowdy. The males slowly trail the female as she rolls about, intertwining among themselves in comparatively leisurely fashion. The female appears drawn to the tender, fin slapping in a loose circle all the way around, then repeatedly rolling on her back to expose her round white belly above the surface. Later, she even follows the bow of the tender crocodile-style, necessitating a quick reverse. What does such seemingly flirtatious behavior mean when it is directed towards us? Is she trying to lose her other suitors, and using the boat to distract or thwart them? Regardless, it is certainly entertaining behavior and we are universally transfixed. A last big breach next to the tender ends the nearly hourlong interaction.
Even in a week marked with spectacular surface activity, the underwater action certainly doesn’t disappoint. In addition to frequent mother and calf interactions and a handful of sleepers, we are extremely fortunate to be in water with a lone dancer as she slowly twists and spins just under the surface. Dancing is a term for the intimate courtship (presumably) behavior generally seen between two whales; why this female is dancing alone is unclear. With her smooth lines and a constellation of white spots scattered over her dorsal fin, she certainly looks like a good catch to us (and perhaps we to her, as she sticks close for over an hour and a half). It may be that she is a young whale practicing – the hormones coursing through her body needing expression. After a time, a mother, calf and escort trio displace the dancer, passing just by us in the water. It is a perfect grand finale to an extraordinary encounter.
Another great session on the Silver Bank, with glassy waters and sunshine for the crossing home. Looking forward to next week!
Written by: Lisa LaPointe, Aquatic Adventures
Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures