February 4 – February 11, 2017
Week Three of our 27th Season
As we arrived at the Silver Bank for week three of the breeding and calving season we saw plenty of surface activity from the mother ship and felt confident it was going to be a great week. And we were not disappointed, with tranquil sleeping whales, fast paced rowdy groups and everything in between!
On the second day we found three adult whales together, a female and two males, an escort and challenger. The trio were very calm, resting and slowly traveling, however when we came closer the female turned to us and appeared to be more interested in our tender than her suitors. She would circle the tender, rolling on her back, spreading her pectoral fins and gently slapping at the surface with her fins and fluke. We were treated to some close up views of her tubercles (modified hair follicles all over her head) as she slowly raised the tip of her head out of the water in a behavior called spy hopping. Spy hopping is most likely done to gather information via a whisker-like hair in each tubercle and this curious, seemingly playful whale was as interested in us as we were in her. At one point she even opened her mouth and showed us her baleen! The two males were also very calm, allowing our guests and guides on both Aquatic Adventures’ tenders to rotate in and out of the water and observe the trio as they gracefully maneuvered around each other and our boats. It was almost as if the female enjoyed the noise or vibration of our engines because she returned to circle one of the tenders over and over again resulting in a fascinating and intimate encounter for more than three hours. The escort and challenger stayed close by and rather than pushing the female away and battling for her attention they seemed content to wait for her as she indulged in the happy cries of our guests. Often when a female humpback is seen with more than one male whale, the males are competing to be chosen as a mate resulting in a high energy rowdy group that’s great for surface activity photo opportunities but not for an in-water encounter. So our guests this week were very lucky to experience such a relaxed set of whales, and have the rare chance to enter the water with them.
As the season goes on we are seeing more of this kind of flirtatious behavior between males and females as they choose their mates. Later in the week we came across another group of adult whales where the calm female was clearly controlling the tempo of the encounter. This time the female was initially with just an escort but they were soon joined by a challenger, then another and another, and another! Even though the males showed interest in the female they weren’t in a rowdy mood and we were able to get in the water once again. This time our snorkelers floated above the female as she rested under our tender with her tail up and head down and watched as the males made perimeter checks, circling her and our guests at the surface. To be in the water with this many fully grown humpback whales really was an awe-inspiring experience and for an incredible two and a half hours each tender took a turn to be with the whales. Then the female seemed to rouse and began fin slapping and moving faster, spurring the males to display to her their less sensitive side and show her who would be the strongest mate. More rowdy behavior ensued with bubble streams, trumpet blows and tail slashing. We certainly got out of the water but the excitement didn’t end there and we enjoyed the surface activity for a while longer.
Not only did we have these fascinating encounters with adult whales we also saw several pairs of mothers and calves this week. We saw surface activity like breaching and lob tailing from both mother and calf as the new mama exercises and trains her baby and on three occasions we were very fortunate to gain the confidence of the mother and get into the water with them. One sunny morning we found a mother with her very young babe resting in a shallow area of the Silver Bank where there are many coral pinnacles, making for a beautiful back drop. While a mother humpback whale sleeps she only needs to breathe every twenty minutes or so, however for a calf this young it’s every two to three minutes. We had a wonderful view from the surface as the baby would peak out from under mom’s chin, resting there while they napped because they still can’t really control their buoyancy. Then baby would gently bob to the surface for a breath. As the calves grow they become more confident but this little boy was quite shy, staying over mom’s head making what we call the “little circle thing” before returning to tuck back under mom once again.
This week was one of our extended weeks on the Silver Bank and on the last day we were treated to beautiful calm seas and sunshine and another wonderful mother and calf encounter. This time the pair was not sleeping, they were slowly traveling at the surface and after observing them for a little while we slipped into the water and watched as they very leisurely cruised by for several minutes. The calf was playing alongside the mother and sometimes would lay on top of her head. It truly is a rare and precious thing for a mother whale to allow people to share in the tender bond between her and her calf and we are so happy when our guests leave with these very special memories.
Looking back over the week we really have seen an incredible variety of behaviors and feel privileged to have been able to see the whales in their natural habitat both above and below the waves. Thank you humpback whales of the Silver Bank!
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:
Thanks to all who have generously donated!
LIKE us on Facebook
FOLLOW us on Twitter
Learn more about Aquatic Adventures here.
Written by: Pippa Swannell, Aquatic Adventures
Designed by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures