March 31 – April 7, 2018
Week Ten 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:
As we enter into the last few weeks of the season I start to look back on all of the various encounters and interactions we’ve been able to share with our guests and somehow put together patterns of behaviors. For example, in the beginning of the season we’re more apt to see newborns or fairly young calves whereas towards the end of the season these sightings become more rare as the calves get older, stronger and bigger.
Another trait the calves lack in the beginning of the season is their ability to have control over their pectoral fins and flukes above water. Whereas an adult humpback can fin slap with definite intention and precision, a young calf is much more random and haphazard. However towards the end of the season you can really see an improvement on the calf’s ability to sustain more controlled fin slaps and lob tails as well as grander spinning head and chin breaches.
There are still a lot of mothers and calves out here on the Silver Bank which is great to see. These young ones are building up their muscles and improving their stamina in order to make the long migration up north and the large numbers of calves that we are still seeing this late in the season points in a great direction towards the future of the North Atlantic population. It’s hard not to take a little bit of pride watching them grow and mature, and look forward to interacting with them again as adults in seasons to come.
Aquatic Adventures team member Joe Lamontagne:
As one of the guests commented this week, “It’s better to be lucky than good”, he was referencing the perfect weather we had for our tenth week on the Silver Bank this season. It was such a beautiful change compared to our otherwise windy season. During the course of the week, we had many different encounters with the whales. One day, we had a mother and calf give us quite a surface show with breaching, lob tailing, and fin slapping displays next to the tender. Another time, a very curious mother and calf circled around the tender multiple times. During this time everyone slid into the water, staying next to the boat, and watched. The mother’s behaviour changed when people got into the water; instead of circling, she would turn towards the boat and descend below the boat with her belly facing up. Although all of these encounters made the trip amazing for everyone, we got a little more spoiled on our last afternoon out on the water when we found a dancer.
When we first found the pair of whales that included the dancer, we had no idea because they were both resting midwater. The first time in the water with them, both whales stayed down for nineteen minutes before they started showing any signs of movement. The first whale to move was much smaller than the other and it surfaced next to all of us with the sunlight at our back, making it great for photography. It stayed near us for only one breath before moving off and while we turned our attention to the second whale below us, we noticed it was starting to come up to the surface. It surfaced a little farther away than the first and moved off in the same direction as the first. With both whales out of view, we figured the encounter was finished. Instead, the first whale had turned around and came by us for another look! This time we noticed it was a male since it twirled completely around as it came near us. He spent a few minutes playing around and rolling at the surface just next to us before he left and returned to the other whale.
Everyone got back onboard giggling and ecstatic while we watched for the whales to settle. They did and I slid into the water to find their whereabouts. At first glance, the smaller male whale was directly below me spinning and twirling as it made its way up towards me and the tender. Everything about the movements of the whale were executed very gracefully, making it look almost like the whale was putting on a choreographed performance for us. I quickly told everyone then to get into the water and we watched the spectacular display for the duration of the other larger whale’s breathing resting cycle. He danced among all of us the entire time, causing us to back up on several occasions because he came in twirling very close to all of us. Many times it seemed that he was looking directly into our eyes during his pass. Witnessing a dancing whale perform for us shows how incredibly intellectual humpback whales are.
Aquatic Adventures team member Lorenzo Martinez:
Week 10 on the Silver Bank brought us the best weather of the season. We were lucky to get flat seas and almost no wind at all. We could see the blows from whales from a long distance away. There are a lot of mothers and calves still on the bank and often we could see three or four different pairs in a morning or afternoon.
On Sunday a pair of spotted dolphins played around our tenders for a moment as they passed in front of our boat and jumped and surfed on our wake. After that we saw a mother and her calf. The calf was playing (fin slapping, lob tailing) and the mother was swimming very slow. Unfortunately she didn’t appear ready to let people be in the water with her calf.
As the week progressed the weather continued to be nice. Monday morning we found a different mother and calf that were peacefully resting on the surface. The mother and calf approached and swam around the tender allowing guests to enter the water and join them in a soft in water encounter. Our guests included a mother and daughter that for the first time were able to snorkel and have an opportunity that not a lot of people can have, to be in the water with a mother whale and her calf. After a few encounters the calf decided to give us a show, displaying surface activities (breaching, fin slapping, tail breaching) next to the tender. The second tender was invited to share the encounter and the mother whale started fin slapping and breaching while the calf continued to breach next to mother.
That day we saved the best for last. In the afternoon we got a big surprise because our engineer came out on the tender for the first time after 8 years of working for the boat. This was his second time in the water with a whale and emotions filled everybody on board. It was a great satisfaction that it happened with me.
On Thursday the morning was peaceful and at 1 o’clock two whales were spotted in the distance breaching. As we approached, two adult whales emerged at the surface and guests were able to get into the water. The whales were very curious and approached next to them. As the encounter progressed, one of the whales started circling around and danced in front of our guests for hours. It would move a little between breath cycles and stopped before circling around and swimming under the guests again. It was twisting and arching its body like a ballet dancer for a long time and the guests were stunned to see this great and unforgettable encounter. Once more our guests go back home with an incredible and once in a lifetime experience.
Aquatic Adventures team member Denise Lawrence:
When working with a mom, calf, and escort it is always interesting to see the dynamics between the three. Some moms and calves are cool with the escort hanging around in the background. Others seem to find escorts to be more dominating, seeming to push them in certain directions they want them to go. Still others seem to outright annoy the moms and calves.
We often see mothers and calves who have escorts they do not seem to care for. When this happens they sometimes start actively engaging in surface behaviors such as fin slapping, lob tailing and tail breaching. Unfortunately we rarely see what happens below the surface due to the fact that they keep trying to get away from the annoying escort.
On Monday this week we were with a mother and calf that did not seem to care for their escort. The mother and calf kept turning toward the tender and moving under us, seemingly trying to throw the escort off in order to lose him. After many turns, the escort caught on to this behavior and placed himself on the right side of the tender that she was normally turning. The visibility was great and they were staying shallow so we could see them perfectly. When the escort placed himself on the right, the mother went over to him and rammed into him as if telling him to leave them alone. The mother and calf picked up speed trying to lose him! Unfortunately he did not get the message and continued to follow along. We decided it was best to let them go, wishing mom and calf good luck in getting rid of this annoying escort.
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:
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Written by: Aquatic Adventures team members
Edited by: Heather Reser, Aquatic Adventures
All images © Tom Conlin unless noted