February 18 – February 25, 2023
Week Five 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!
Floating in eighty feet of water, peering down at two large shadows and trying to calm excited breath. This is how many encounters begin when you are out on the Silver Bank. From the tender, the captain finds a whale that is staying in one location, they send the scout into the water, who proceeds to call in the guests. By regulation we are able to have twelve people in the water at once but we rarely go above ten guests and one scout. The ten people swim over to where the scout is, line up shoulder to shoulder and downwind from the whale to make staying organized easier. They may need to kick against the surface current a little to stay in place but it’s not too difficult. Calmly they rest at the surface, looking down to see what the scout has located, they see the majestic North Atlantic humpback whale. Again, this is how encounters generally start, how they end is always the exciting unknown.
Early in the week we encountered many traveling whales. You will hear the crew say “I guess it’s just one of those days”. This happens, it’s almost as if all the whales on the Silver Bank have had a discussion and they agreed to not rest that day. Time after time we find whales and try to approach but they are moving so quickly we are either unable to catch up or unable to get into the water with them. While working one set of whales (“working” a whale is terminology used by the Aquatic Adventures team. It refers to the activity of approaching the whale with the tender, while also keeping our distance, allowing the whale to get used to the engines and also giving them time to indicate to the driver if they are not interested in interacting) we notice some weird surface activity. Small splashes and quick movements below the surface, the whales are turning in every direction trying to get away, but it doesn’t seem to be about the tender. Suddenly, we are surrounded by pantropical spotted dolphins, a small species of dolphin often located here on the bank. They are riding our wake, zipping by the bow and we realize the whales are not going to stop with these little creatures disturbing them. So, this might be a whale trip, but why not jump into the water with some dolphins. One after another the guests drop into the water. It’s a quick encounter with them, but they rush in from the blue stopping just before you, take a quick look and go spinning away in the other direction. Fun for us, but we can imagine how annoying it could get for the humpback whale. (Photo: Anne Goyette)
In another instance the Aquatic Adventures crew comes across a singer. These are such special moments; a single whale singing a song, presumably trying to attract a mate. Everyone slips in the water and rests above the whale, literally feeling the vibrations of the song through their bodies. Sometimes you can even hear the song while in the boat! You can view/listen to a video of the whale singing here.
But again, this whale continued to travel on. For a few moments we would rest above the whale listening to it sing but then it would stop to come up for a breath and travel on. The tender was able to follow the whale and get it several times until the singer then approached a female with escort. This was now a singing challenger. The guests watched from the tender as the three whales started a high energy display of breaching and fin slapping. They moved under water so quickly and aggressively it was difficult to keep track, but then the female and original escort were seen swimming away to the north and the singing challenger, losing his fight, swimming away to the west. It was apparent she liked her original escort more. They soon came to rest, so we slipped into the water and enjoyed watching the two whales interact with one another.
Although both of those encounters became something unexpected, this final one was unforgettable. Again, this encounter started off like any other. Two sleeping whales, resting amongst the coral heads, coming up every fifteen minutes or so for a breath. Sometimes the whales would come in for a closer look and sometimes they would slowly swim off. We spent hours in the water with these two, calling over the other tender and rotating in and out. It was so peaceful and relaxing until all of a sudden the escort began to shift different, angling up towards the surface, we watched as he kicked his enormous flukes once, twice, three times and came flying up out of the water, launching almost his full body out of the water into a chin breach and landing with a giant splash. He then breached again! On a subsequent encounter with the pair, after another resting cycle the female decided it was her turn to breach, as she suddenly powered herself towards the surface and rocketed into a spinning head breach; she then proceeded to breach two more times! So amazing to watch their strength and agility from resting at the bottom to fifty feet above you.
Back on the Turks and Caicos explorer, after dinner, the guests sat around the salon discussing the day. Some displayed their pictures for the rest to see and we relished in a great week. One of the guests who studies humpback whales in Cape Cod recognized our breacher as a whale called Aye-Aye (named for the II markings on the ventral side of the fluke).
You just never know what an encounter with humpback whales is going to turn into; a visit from a different species, a challenge to win over a female or perhaps even the most impressive display of strength and agility of all. Another outstanding week on the Silver Bank! It’s hard to know what the following weeks will bring but we know they will be exhilarating.
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, Heather Reser, Joanne Jarzobski, Anne Goyette