January 30 – February 6, 2016
Week Two of our 26th Season
It’s week two on the Silver Bank and more Humpback Whales are making their way down to the Caribbean calving and breeding grounds. Also traveling from afar to join us were our guests this week coming all the way from Germany, Austria and Italy along with six from the USA and three home-grown guests from the Dominican Republic. We love it when people from all over the world come to share in the majesty and beauty of the Silver Bank whales and return home with unforgettable memories and photos.
Inevitably, with the steady influx of whales, including an increasing number of sexually mature males with only mating on their minds, tensions run high. We were treated this week to some spectacular Rowdy Group behavior, so named for the high spirited activities of two or more males competing over a female in estrous. A female will return to estrous directly after giving birth regardless of whether her mind is on reproduction or not and with potential suitors determined to be the one at her side no matter what, it can be difficult sometimes for a mother to keep her newly born calf a safe distance from the fighting males. During one particularly heated encounter this week a desirable female, with her calf, was being pursued by an escort and three other challenging whales. As the powerful, fully grown, 45 foot males weaved and dived around each other the mother whale appeared very distressed by the ordeal, attempting to ward off the males with high pitched trumpet blows and by slashing and lobbing her tail at them. She maneuvered her calf into the safety of her slipstream across her back so it could keep up with the group. Although we, on the Aquatic Adventures tender, attempted to maintain a safe distance from the watery brawl, we realized that the female was again and again approaching us in the hope that the males would leave her and her baby in peace. This tactic did not deter the single-minded males and made for an especially thrilling encounter for all of us on the boat, with close-up surface activity as the whales rammed and lunged at each other, fighting for pole position.
The wonderful variety of whale encounters this week were thankfully not all so intense and every guest was lucky enough to have prolonged in-water experiences with sleeping whales, a settled and relaxed mother and calf and even a lone singing whale! Many people in their lives will have heard some kind of Humpback Whale song, whether it is on their meditation CD, the ring tone on their phone or even an actual unedited recording from a hydrophone. However to be in the water, floating only fifty feet over the head of the singing animal, is to be one of only very few people in a very exclusive club! Although other species of whales are known to vocalize, it is shown that only Humpbacks actually sing a tune with a recognizable pattern. This same complex arrangement of moans, squeaks and bellows will be sung by all the North Atlantic Humpback Whales this year and will change for next year. Different regional populations of Humpbacks, such as the Pacific Humpbacks, will sing a different arrangement, much like differing languages or regional accents amongst humans. The enigmatic song of the Humpback is thought to be sung only by males and most likely done to attract a mate. During the mating season here in the Dominican Republic, the Silver Bank (along with neighboring breeding and calving grounds, Mouchoir Bank and Navidad Bank) will of course be alive with song but to hear the singing whales first hand is a rare and special experience that we often only encounter once or twice a season.
After a week full of contrasts, from the fast paced excitement of the rowdy groups to the tender gentleness of mother and calf interactions, we felt privileged to have yet another special encounter on the last day. Like the proverbial icing on the cake our final encounter of the week was a dancing whale! Late in the afternoon we spotted a pair of adults, most likely a male and female. They circled the tender twice, relaxed but clearly feeling playful and curious. When we entered the water we witnessed the female gracefully turning and displaying her belly to the snorkelers while the male swam between the coral mounds below. This made for a truly beautiful end to the week as we made our way back to the mother ship and the sun slipped slowly below the horizon on the Silver Bank.
Written by: Pippa Swannell, Aquatic Adventures
Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures