March 24 – March 31, 2018
Week Nine 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:
A very common question we get out on the Silver Bank is “Do whales usually settle for 12 minutes?” or “Is it normal for humpback whales to be more active in the morning?” or “Are escorts always indifferent to the tenders being nearby?”. The problem with questions like these is that in nature and especially with humpback whales words like ‘normal’, ’usually’ and ‘always’ are hard to define.
What also adds to the difficulty of answering these types of questions is that so much is unknown about humpbacks in general. Aside from their biology and physiology, there hasn’t been a lot of research into the behaviors of humpbacks, so we’re left to come to conclusions based on our own experiences and observations.
This week we were able to see an example of how words like ‘normal’, ‘usually’ and ‘always’ are hard descriptors to use. We observed a mother, calf and escort traveling at a brisk pace of about 4 to 5 knots. The calf was doing her best to perfect the spinning head breach, chin breach and lob tail as they traveled, which gave great topside views to the guests. While we were keeping up with the moving trio, the escort would position himself between us and the mother just as you would ‘expect’ him to do if we were another whale challenging his position.
After about 10 minutes of watching the calf breach and the escort hold his position, the whales suddenly slowed down and the escort switched sides on the female, allowing us to be closer to her. As she slowed her pace we decreased our speed as well until we were drifting alongside her and her calf. At this point the calf had stopped her splashing about and the mother actually turned toward the tender. We were able to have a very nice, clear, slow fly-by with the mother and calf as the guests slipped quietly into the water and held their position, allowing mom and calf to glide gently past them. We were able to continue this experience 4 or 5 times, and all the while the escort stayed deep and seemed unconcerned with the guests or the tender. Then baby got her energy back and began breaching and fin slapping, and we were once again able to watch her topside activities as the three whales swam off towards the outer reef.
Although this may not be something that ‘always’ happens in a situation like this, it is a great example of why interacting with nature can be such a thrill; you just never know what’s going to happen or what the next encounter is going to be. Often it’s the encounters that aren’t ‘normal’ or ‘usual’ that end up being the most memorable.
Aquatic Adventures team member Joe Lamontagne:
On two occasions this week, we were visited by a mother and her calf as we drifted in the tender looking for blows. Both times, we had no idea that they were there, in fact the first time on Tuesday, Lorenzo and I had just turned off the engines and were in the middle of lowering the hydrophone into the water preparing to listen for singing whales when the mother and calf surfaced 10 feet from the tender. Obviously we quickly pulled up the hydrophone and watched them circle the boat before slowly swimming away. We started the engine and kept our distance hoping for them to settle so we could snorkel with them. The mother did settle and I slid into the water scouting the area to find her location prior to sending everyone in. I was successful and signaled for everyone to join me in the water. The visibility was not the best, but it did not matter because of how close the calf came. Upon reaching the surface, the calf changed direction and headed straight towards us causing massive commotion among everyone in the water while we quickly backed away from it. From all the commotion, the mom caught up with her calf and moved off, leaving all of us laughing on the surface about what had just happened.
The second encounter happened the following day when another mother and calf unexpectedly surfaced beside our boat. We also soon realized it was accompanied by an escort who was fending off a challenger, forming a small 3 whale rowdy group. The escort kept the challenger engaged while the mother and calf moved near the tender appearing to use the boat as a safe haven. The escort successfully drove the challenger away, then returning to the mother and calf beneath our boat. The mother and calf stayed with the boat for some time, so we decided to put people in the water, keeping them right next to the boat. What happened next was unbelievable; the mother and calf circled around the boat while gracefully passing right next to us. They would do one complete circle around the boat before moving off a bit, then returned to the boat from beneath us and circle again. They continued this behaviour for another 8 passes contributing to this very special encounter. Often when they circled, the mother exposed her belly while the calf would cut in front of its mom, putting itself between its mom and us. During this encounter, the escort mostly stayed away from us, but one time he came up from the depths all the way up to the surface, spy hopping right beside all of us. Encounters like these are the most cherished and will forever stay in my mind and heart.
Aquatic Adventures team member Lorenzo Martinez:
Week 9 on the Silver Bank brought us again a visit from a couple of bottlenose dolphins who enjoyed riding our bow. Monday morning after working a group of whales we were able to interact with a rowdy group. At the beginning the group consisted of a few whales but as they traveled the group got bigger and bigger until there were 12 whales. We were able to be with them for more than an hour, watching them ramming each other and positioning themselves on top of one another as well as displaying bubble streams and trumpet blows. They were coming so close and under our tender! After an hour we shared with the second tender and guests were able to appreciate a bigger display of power every time they came to the surface to get a quick breath before continuing the battle.
Immediately after we left the rowdy group we moved to the reef area. We saw a blow in the distance and approached slowly and carefully. We found a mother and her calf resting on the surface and our guests got in the water peacefully to enjoy a soft in-water encounter. The mother allowed us to stay next to her and her calf and all the guests were able to enjoy the encounter for the rest of the morning.
As the week progressed we were able to enjoy encounters with different groups of mother and calves as well as juvenile whales. The guests had a very memorable week with one guest deciding to stay another week and we expect to see the rest in seasons to come.
Aquatic Adventures team member Denise Lawrence:
As I have said before one of my favorite aspects of being here season after season is that you never know what type of different behaviors you’ll see. This week we saw some surface activity happening so we decided to go check it out. It was a small rowdy group that consisted of three whales. As we followed them, the group eventually broke up but one of the whales continued to perform a variety of different surface behaviors including rolling, pec slapping, tail slashing, and tail breaching. While we approached the whale, it stopped its surface activity and started dancing around the tender which is indicative of a female. We were not able to get into the water as it would move off a couple of boat lengths after short periods of time so we happily watched from the tender.
The whale started lying ventral side up as if it was resting which allowed us to get a good look at its underside which is the part of the body we do not get to see as much so that in itself was exciting. Suddenly the whale arched and went down ventral side up which allowed us to see its genital area. We were surprised to notice that it was not a female but a male! He did this behavior several more times.
Needless to say we were surprised to see this behavior from a lone male due to the fact that when this had happened in the past we had always been under the impression that it was always a female. I love that I learn something new every day and will always feel blessed spending time with these majestic cetaceans.
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