February 21 ~ February 28, 2015
We revere them for their grace and intelligence, but what do humpback whales think of us? Do they see us merely as oddly shaped creatures from another realm, or do they have a deeper understanding? With their ever-changing and complex communications, do they keep an oral record of our shared history? We may never have answers to these kinds of questions, but there is little doubt whales are interested in us: they graciously accommodate, and often seem to welcome, our presence in their world. This week on the Silver Bank we have multiple encounters that blur the boundaries between our respective worlds and leave us wondering just who is more curious about who.
In one such example, we come across a pair of dancers among the corals. Despite their involved courtship, they immediately are intrigued by the tender, circling it and spy hopping. We slip into the water and they circle us as well, while also spinning and rolling with slow motion grace. Is the tender seen as a competitor? Another suitor? One whale approaches the tender closely, orienting vertically to seemingly peer at us above the surface. In two other encounters, the whales circle us several times, rolling each time for a closer look. They repeatedly approach closely enough for us to look into their expressive eyes, then fade away ghost-like into the blue.
Other encounters this week are equally impressive. In one, a mother and calf pair lobtail over and over in sync, first on their backs, then head down. Both have all-white flukes, and gleaming all-white bellies, but baby departs from mom’s stylings with his all-black pectoral fins. Black pectoral fins (dorsal side) are a rarity in the North Atlantic, so this little calf stands out. Handsome and enthusiastic, he keeps perfect time with mom’s display. Could the display be meant for us? We are close enough to hear the impressive acoustics, nearly close enough to feel the splash. In another encounter, a mom and calf pair also take an obvious interest in us, but escort is less enthused by our presence. While humpbacks are never dangerously aggressive towards us, some escorts don’t appreciate us being near a potential mate. This massive, heavily-scarred male slashes his tail towards us under water and above, making his feelings about our proximity clearly known. We back off, and he settles down, content in his dominance.
Another very special encounter this week – this time with mother and calf – leaves little doubt that humpbacks acknowledge and accept our presence. This mom spends nearly two hours at the surface, rarely submerging, while baby rolls about next to her and on top of her. On several occasions, mom nose pushes her baby directly towards us, as if offering up the little one for inspection and praise. It’s an unbelievably generous and touching encounter, and no one is left unmoved.
A last notable encounter this week is also quite touching. In this one, a mother and calf pair make a deliberate turn towards the tender, giving us a close look at mom’s damaged dorsal fin. The fin is torn halfway from the body, with obvious scarring from embedded line snaking down her flanks. Entanglement in fishing gear and other marine debris is one of the greatest human-caused threats facing humpbacks, and this whale is lucky to have escaped. Perhaps it is going too far to think she understands and forgives the human threat, but we nonetheless feel happy that she approaches us without fear.
Another great week of unique encounters!
Written by: Lisa LaPointe, Aquatic Adventures
Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures