March 4 – March 11, 2023
Week Seven 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!
Another amazing weather week with low winds, daily sunshine and a full moon! The assumption here on the Silver Bank is that the full moon means the whales are fairly active at night which results in them being less active on the surface during the early hours of the day. This theory seemed to hold true as we continued to encounter what we call “sleepers” all week. Encounters with sleepers are more exciting than they sound. It usually consists of two whales, likely a male and female, resting under the surface of the water and coming up for a breathing cycle every 15 to 20 minutes. The best type of sleepers are when the male makes what we call a perimeter check, coming up close to the guests and circling them before heading back down to accompany the resting female. We had many sleeping pairs this week, but one in particular stands out among the others.
The winds had picked up this day so we stayed closer to the coral heads where the visibility was going to be better and the protection from waves greater. We came across a couple of sleepers fairly early in the day and jumped in. Fifteen minutes went by as we were able to float above and make out the details of the whale. Acorn barnacles along the flukes and pectorals, entanglement scars on the female, three round barnacle scars on the male’s pectoral. This can be the most exciting thing about sleepers; it actually gives you the time to settle in and appreciate the subtle differences between each whale. After the fifteen minutes, the male decided to come up and do a perimeter check. As usual, he came up towards us, swam in a large circle and just before coming nose to nose with the guests, went back down to the female. Fourteen minutes passed and the female started to make her way up. Now, usually at this point the male (who presumably is trying to escort and mate with the female) will follow her up to the surface, but this was different. The female came straight up to us, after being down for twenty-nine minutes, turned, circled the group very closely and then went back down to the male. The two continued like this for the whole morning. The male switching out with the female for a perimeter check and our tenders switching out the guests for the next encounter. It was a very unique situation. After coming back out after lunch we found them again, still exhibiting the same behavior, but we decided to check out some other action further up in the coral heads… a mother, calf and escort.
Every whale is different, not just in looks but also in attitude and personality. Some are adventurous and curious while others can be shy and standoffish. For the past five weeks we have encountered the same mother and calf pair. And for five weeks every time we have tried to get into the water with her, she stays for one breathing cycle with the scout and moves on when the other ten guests enter the water. So we leave her alone and move onto a different encounter. This week, however, we tried to do something different. The first time we put the scout in and let her go through a breathing cycle. She stayed. The next time we put only three guests in with her and she stayed. Three times we got in with her and we would just rotate the guests so everyone got a chance to see her. Finally, she seemed to be getting comfortable with us, so we added two more guests, having six people total in the water. Turns out, she prefers smaller groups, because as soon as the larger group arrived she was out of there! It’s amazing how unique each one of these whales are and their preferences. It sometimes just takes a little time for us to figure them out.
The very last day, there was another very unique situation with the mother, calf and escort. As we approached, we kept our tender a long distance away, hoping it would give the mother a chance to settle and perhaps we would be able to get into the water with her. She seemed to like us though, because she continued to come closer and closer to the tender, putting us between her and the escort. The escort began tail breaching, spy hopping and trumpet blowing, clearly indicating his jealousy of her preference. Eventually he calmed and she seemed to be coming towards us again, so we thought we would try a fly by. One by one we entered into the water, the female and calf swam by near the surface while the escort swam under us closer to the bottom. As we watched her pass us, we noticed the escort stop, raise his head to the surface just on the other side of us, then raise his fluke and start to BACK UP! He was pushing us away from her with his fluke! “Ok buddy, we got the message.” Hopping back into the tender laughing at how close we came to being the competitor in a rowdy group was the best way to end a beautiful and adventurous week.
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 Doug Richardson