March 5 – March 12, 2016
Week Seven of our 26th Season
Humpback whales are found in every major ocean on our planet and our guests this week were also once again drawn from far and wide to see the graceful giants of the Silver Bank, coming from as far as Germany, Switzerland and Russia as well as the relatively short hop down from the United States. As the new mothers and calves are preparing for their long journey up to the northern feeding grounds, we were treated on this seventh week of the season to plenty of exciting surface activity and in-water encounters from several sets of mums and babes.
Well over halfway through the season now and this year’s new calves are growing fast! Consuming approximately fifty gallons of milk a day, putting on 100 lbs and growing an inch a day, the tiny newborns are becoming big babies right before our eyes! Not only have we seen them grow dramatically over the past weeks but also have witnessed their increasing confidence; whereas before they would stick close to mum, they are now venturing further and further afield, playing and exploring the shallow calm waters of the Silver Bank and proving to be quite the handful for their mothers. Right from the start on day one this week we encountered a mother and calf fin slapping and lob tailing in the Caribbean sunshine.
As we watched from the tender, the excited youngster would breach further and further away from mum until eventually she would have to call the precocious calf back. To do this, the mother needs to create a loud sound; slapping their fins and flukes on the surface of the water will usually work but if the babe is lost in the excitement of their new found skills, only one action is going to be loud enough and that is the maneuver that Humpbacks are famous for, the breach! This mother found that two consecutive spinning head breaches, where she would lunge nearly her entire body out of the water, fling her pectoral fins out to spin and slap down on the surface, was just the right measure to alert her distracted calf while our lucky guests enjoyed the show from only a hundred feet away!
Second only to the spinning head breach for noise level is the chin breach. This breach is often carried out after a spinning head breach as it requires less energy but still makes an impressive impact. By lunging straight up out of the water until half the body is exposed and then folding forward whilst cupping their ventral pleats, a loud hollow sound is produced. We saw plenty of this behavior too this week.
As the calves get stronger and are able to travel for longer periods, the mothers will start their migration north, and as the numbers of females here on the Silver Bank decrease, so the eagerness of the males to mate increases. With this higher ratio of males to females, the likelihood of finding rowdy groups improves. Mid week we encountered one such rowdy group made up of six individuals. In an impressive display of testosterone and virility, five male whales, looking to impress the lone female, lunge breached and tail breached in a high speed battle, on and below the surface. We watched for an hour and a half as the drama unfolded, but rowdy groups such as this can go on for many hours until one male finally secures position next to the female as her escort in the hope of mating with her.
All this excitement top side was unaffected by increasing winds as the week went on but despite the choppy seas, our guests were still able to spend plenty of time in the water with the peaceful giants once they calmed down; twice with sleeping whales and again with two more mother and calf pairs.
After another week of beautiful sunrises and sunsets out on the Silver Bank, we return to the Dominican Republic to drop off our guests with their memories and hearts full of wonderful whale encounters and with a new appreciation for these most enigmatic and graceful creatures.
The Aquatic Adventures team hopes that you are as inspired as we are to help sustain the humpback whale population. Through our partnership with the Center for Coastal Studies, we are helping to gain critical information on these charismatic creatures, and to seek ways to protect and preserve them. To find out more about this effort, join their mailing list or to make a donation, large or small, please visit:
Written by: Pippa Swannell, Aquatic Adventures
Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures