March 11 – March 18, 2023
Week Eight 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!
Every day the Aquatic Adventures team gets together after washing down and tying up the tenders to discuss the encounters of the day. By the end of the week a theme usually presents itself and helps to guide us in writing this blog. One theme might be the full moon and how we had more surface activity in general, another might be an abundance of mothers and calves or perhaps singers. This week however, the theme is that of no theme. The weather was variable, the encounters drastically different each day. Sunday, or the first day we arrive on the Silver Bank, is always a half day. We arrive sometime mid morning, whale watch from the main ship while we have our breakfast, prepare tenders and gear, listen to an orientation briefing then depart on the tenders after a hearty lunch.
This particular afternoon the weather was cooperating but because of the high winds from last week the ocean was still stirred up and the visibility poor. Even with the poor visibility, we can easily locate the humpback whales by their blows and with a keen eye and a little luck the scout can usually make out the lightness of the pectorals underwater. This Sunday, however, we didn’t need sight to find our first encounter. You first hear the high squeals of the singing humpback through the hull of the boat and as you get closer, the low notes start to come through and vibrate off the hull. At this point it doesn’t matter how good the visibility is, by just using the volume of the whale’s song through the hull of the tender and following the vibrations of the low notes through your body once in the water, the singing whale can be easily located, even if you can’t see it. Time and time again we entered the water, using not our sense of sight, but feeling and hearing to direct us into the right position above the singing whale. On our last approach the visibility did seem to clear a little and we finally got a glimpse of our musical mammal with the flukes pointing up to the surface; we were able to grab a quick fluke shot which will hopefully be useful in IDing this whale later on.
(Photo from this week of a fluking whale in some sargassum / Gary Kirsheman)
Dancers more than often consist of two whales, presumably one female and one male, swimming around each other, twisting and turning in every direction. It can be quite a beautiful and breathtaking thing to see as they invert themselves, spyhop together and swim around the group blowing bubbles. Today, our second day on the Silver Bank, our dancer was with a female but she was caring for a calf and not dancing. The escort seemed to be showing off. While we watched the mother tenderly taking care of her calf, the escort would come up in front of the guests and show off his ventral side, inverting himself and spin head down, circling the guests and then going down to dance for the mother. Each time the female came up for a breathing cycle with her calf, the escort would carry on beside her to the next location, but once settled, would begin to dance for us again. Where a mother and calf are usually the highlight of the encounter, this male was ensuring he was the star of the show!
The next day, day three, the winds had picked up a bit and it seemed like training day for the calves. Lots of surface activity allowed for optimal photography and a different way to experience the humpbacks. In one case we traveled with a mother and calf through the coral heads and the calf continuously practiced opening and closing its mouth at the surface. We saw the calf perform spinning head breaches one after another until the forty five ton adult ended the show with her own impressive breach, leaving the spectators on the tender in complete admiration.
Wednesday, we had two in-water encounters, both with a mother and calf that we could confidently say were close encounters. The first set, the calf was young, so young that the mother had a tendency to keep herself between the guests and the calf. Sometimes, we wonder if her intention behind doing this is to protect the calf or perhaps it’s to protect the people from the calf, who is just learning about its own body strength, size and maneuverability. With this encounter it may have been the latter, for at one moment when the calf finally broke free of its mother’s stronghold, it bolted directly for the guests, not in a menacing way, but in a curious “Hey look, toys my size” sort of way. The mother had to act quickly as the calf was getting too close, and the guests started to back away. She quickly dove under the guests and pushed the calf along, out of the way before the young calf could make contact. (Photos: Elena Batyuk)
The second encounter was with a mother and calf we had watched for a few weeks here on the Silver Bank. The calf is getting much bigger and older now, spending more time at the surface playing around with the guests while mother rests peacefully just under the surface. At this age the calf seems to be much more aware of itself and because of that will push the boundaries with mom. While we floated passively at the surface, we watched as the calf played and showed off for us, but then it quickly swim away and began to tail breach. The guests were still watching the mother below when she reacted to her calf’s indiscretion, twisting her body in the direction of the wandering calf, using the full force of her caudal peduncle and raising her pectorals out to their full extension, she threw herself out of the water and tail breached! Our team brought the tender in closer to the guests to pick them up while the mother went chasing after her precocious toddler.
Thursday, unfortunately the winds began to howl and became too strong to safely go out on the bank for the day. The Turks & Caicos Explorer II is constructed with large viewing windows in the salon so guests whale watched from the main ship, shared stories and photos of their week and played board games while watching the squalls push through from the safety and dryness of the main ship. Although we weren’t able to go out on Thursday due to the high winds, the variety and abundance of encounters this week left everyone feeling like they had experienced something extraordinary.
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, Gary Kirsheman and Elena Batyuk