February 3 – February 10, 2018
Week Two of our 28th Season
This year Aquatic Adventures embarks on its 28th year of providing our guests the unique opportunity to encounter the North Atlantic humpback whales on their breeding and calving grounds, the Silver Bank. As the season unfolds, we’ll be highlighting some of the various encounters and experiences of our guests and team members from their perspectives. We hope you enjoy following along!
Aquatic Adventures team member Brandt Brown:
Being that the Silver Bank is home to the largest mating and calving grounds in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s always exciting to see the process of males attempting to accomplish their sole purpose for making the migration south: to mate.
This week we were fortunate enough to witness a rowdy group, which by definition is a female humpback, her escort and at least one other male trying to displace the escort called the challenger. On this particular day there were three whales trying to jockey for position to take out the established escort and be the male closest to her. Sometimes this behavior can be slow paced and almost docile, others fast and high energy. The female was keeping a fast pace between 5 and 7 knots while the escort did his best to keep beside her while fending off the other three whales. Often as he came to the surface he would create a bubble stream by exhaling before he broke the surface of the water. This long, frothy, blue line of exhaled air seems to us to be an efficiency in breathing, allowing him to be able to inhale as soon as his blowhole is clear of water and able to dive down back into the fight.
Although the other whales were trying to position themselves closest to the female, they were also busy battling one another. Often at the surface there would be a flurry of slashing tails, churning the water white. And by far the most exciting behavior exhibited during this rowdy group was two challengers chin breaching at the same time out of the water and into each other, repeatedly. In between the chin breaches they slowed down to lunge breach on top of each other as well. It really was a magnificent show of power.
Aquatic Adventures team member Denise Lawrence:
During the second week we are starting to see more whales making their way on to the Silver Bank. We came across many adult males and females pairing up looking to mate. We were fortunate enough to have one of these possible mating pairs take a keen interest in the tenders. We were able to drift with this pair for over a mile while they continuously displayed different behaviors, my favorite being the spy hop. They consistently spy hopped just feet from the tenders as well as rolling to show us their undersides. Even though we were not able to get into the water, the top side view was awe inspiring and a memory that will stick with me forever.
Aquatic Adventures team member Joe Lamontagne:
It’s impossible to speculate why humpback whales do certain behaviors, but watching their behavior repeated with different whales throughout the seasons starts to paint a picture. On Monday we encountered a single female humpback fin slapping and tail breaching for the better part of an hour. Her way of fin slapping was not the forceful slap that we sometimes see, but more of an over exaggerated and yet graceful slapping of the water using her pectoral fins. While she fin slapped, we maneuvered the tender into a position that gave us the best lighting to enjoy her tireless display. As time went on, her pectoral fins started becoming red in color signifying she was overheating. While signs of overexertion were clearly visible, she continued entertaining all of us on the tender. She finally stopped fin slapping with the presence of another whale coming close to her. We watched for a few more minutes as she joined up with the other whale and they slowly started swimming away together. We will never know for sure, but it’s encounters like this that demonstrate whales soliciting using “fin slapping” to attract other whales to their side.
Aquatic Adventures team member Lorenzo Martinez:
This week on the Silver Bank we were in the company of the Cheeseman Ecology tour group led by Ted Cheeseman who has booked many tours with us throughout the years. As we arrived Sunday morning we were able to appreciate the increase in the numbers of whales on the bank.
Monday at the beginning of the morning whales were “blowing and going” until we got the radio call from the tender Challenger. They told us they had a pair of whales that were circling the people in the water so we headed that way. After a moment we successfully got in the water with these two whales and all the guests were able to enjoy the soft in water encounter. As the week continued we were able to have many different encounters like this.
Tuesday we had two and a half hours of great surface activity including “fin slapping, lob tailing and tail breaching”. Two sets of female and male pairs on Thursday gave us another great morning. It started when a pair of whales approached our tender and the female began resting underwater right next us. For 20 minutes the female and male came frequently to check out our people, and saving the best for last almost two hours of “spy hopping” next to the tender that just drifted with the current. The whales were so comfortable with the tenders it seemed with a reach of a hand they could be touched.
Another great week on the Silver Bank finished on Friday morning with a mother and her calf accompanied by a male escort that was too protective and for a moment didn’t allow us to get in the water, and a small rowdy group that passed by to say hello.
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!
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Written by: Aquatic Adventures team members
Edited by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures
All images © Tom Conlin unless noted