January 21 – January 28, 2023
Week One of our 32nd Season
This year Aquatic Adventures embarks on its 32nd season 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 highlight some of the various encounters and experiences of our guests each week. We hope you enjoy following along!
It’s the beginning of the 2023 season on the Silver Bank, the crew is busy getting all their gear and equipment stowed away for the ten hour crossing and guests are due to arrive in a few hours. The excitement to be back on the Silver Bank with the humpback whales can not be surpassed and talk of an adventure filled few months fills the air. Miguel, our chef, is preparing a wonderful charcuterie board and fresh fruit, the Explorer crew are setting up cocktail hour, the engineer and captain are doing the last checks on board and the Aquatic Adventures crew are beginning to greet guests on the dock. Boarding begins at 5:00PM. Paperwork is dealt with, guests are shown their room and they enjoy their first few hours of their vacation on the Turks & Caicos Explorer II, settling into the idea that they will have zero responsibilities and all of their needs will be taken care of for the next 6 days. In just a few hours we will set sail to our destination, 90 nautical miles off the coast of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic to the infamous Silver Bank, the calving and mating grounds of the North Atlantic humpback whale.
Ten hours later we tie up to our mooring just inside the protection of a coral reef. More than 1300 coral heads tower 80 to 90 feet above the sea floor where they reach the water’s surface. For over 30 years Aquatic Adventures has been coming to this particular spot because of the protection these coral heads provide us from the oncoming seas. On arrival, there are a few humpback whales in the area; perhaps these whales are familiar with our vessels or perhaps it is their first time returning from the North Atlantic since they were calves four or more years ago. Our first encounter of the season was soon to follow. A female with a calf swims just south of the Turks & Caicos Explorer II. We head towards them hoping we can get into the water with them, but the calf is young and it’s not guaranteed that the mother will be comfortable with us. We need to take our time and let her decide if and when she will let us approach her in the water. It takes a few tries, slowly approaching with the tender, then sending a scout in the water to get her comfortable with people close by. Every time we get into the water the mother becomes more and more interested in us, coming closer and eventually allowing her calf to investigate as well. We find out at the end of the week that this mother is actually a whale we’ve met and swum with before numerous times since 2014, a whale identified as “Bounce” in the Gulf of Maine Humpback Whale Catalog that is curated by Center for Coastal Studies. How lucky we are to have such a beautiful encounter with Bounce and her calf on our first day on the Silver Bank.
The rest of the week follows this trend. Time and time again we find cooperative whales to swim with. On the second day, a mother, calf and escort. The calf is a bit older than the one the day before. It is probably the first time this young whale has seen people, so it’s not surprising when it circles us, seemingly trying to figure out what we are all about and what we are doing in its watery world. The male accompanying them has a large piece missing from its fluke, indicating a run in with a propeller or possibly an orca; it’s difficult to say for sure. The next day is full of surface activity, rowdy groups, double breaching whales. We are lucky enough to capture a picture of one of our crew at the exact moment a whale launches itself out of the water right next to our tender!
The week is full of wonders and excitement. Between magicians and balloon artists on board and the amazing encounters with humpback whales, there is no lack of entertainment. Our last day on the bank brings us to an incredible close. Two whales, presumably a male and female, rest on the bottom. We float on the surface waiting patiently for them to be done resting and come up for a closer look. The male begins to stir, something is disturbing his slumber and it isn’t us. Two other males come out of the shadows, challengers, wanting to mate with the female he is already with. The escort comes to life, chasing away one of the other males and slapping his pectoral fin against the second. He is defending his place next to the female. This is getting a little too heated for us to stay in the water so we leave them and climb back into the tender to watch the rest of action from the surface.
What an amazing start to a beautiful season!
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: www.coastalstudies.org/aquaticadventures
We are proud to support SeaLegacy in their efforts to create powerful media to change the narrative around our world’s oceans. Their mission is to inspire the global community to protect our oceans. To learn more about SeaLegacy and help with this important mission, please visit: https://www.sealegacy.org
Thanks to all who have generously donated!
Learn more about Aquatic Adventures here.
Written by: Aquatic Adventures team member Gillian Morin
Edited by: Aquatic Adventures team member Heather Reser
Images: Aquatic Adventures and Nicolas Salzano