Conscious Breath Adventures’ Cruise Report, Week 7: Mar. 10-16, 2018

Conscious breath Adventures' Cruise Report, Week 7: Mar. 10-16, 2018

Greetings and welcome to this edition of our Cruise Reports, this for the week of March 10-16, 2018. Our guests included whaleswimmers from Scotland, Germany, Switzerland and even the US, with a number back for their second or fourth visits from England and Canada, too. Welcome to one and all!

As I’ve written before, no two weeks are ever the same and that is a big part of what keeps guests coming back. Swimming with whales can be highly addictive and we are happy to fulfill that need in others (and ourselves).

(Photos: Ben Vieyra, aerial photos Gene Flipse)

The reef on the Silver Bank, as seen from an altitude of 750′

The Reef on the Silver Bank

Geographically, the Silver Bank is a dramatic seascape, with depths of an average of 60’ – 90’, a large plateau rising sharply from the much deeper surrounding waters that exceed 12,000 feet deep. Along the northeastern edge of the Bank is a coral reef comprised of countless coral heads that rise to the surface of the ocean, limited only by the height of low tide in the area. Our mooring is behind the reef where we are sheltered from the prevailing easterly seas. These shallower, protected waters are what draw the humpbacks to the area, too.

Our mothership, the M/V Belize Aggressor IV, on her mooring behind the barrier reef

Two humpbacks resting in the reef

Whale Swimming, Shallow & Deep

Our first interaction this week was with a pair of adult humpback whales resting in the reef in the deeper waters between coral heads. The duo spent considerable time comfortably snoozing between the rocks, which gave us an ideal situation for an early swim. One big benefit of swimming in the reef is the water is shallower affording a better view than whales that are settled farther below in deeper waters.

By comparison, one of our last interactions of the week went the other direction, toward the drop off, as we tracked a mother, calf and escort as they moved into the deeper water outside the reef to the north. Winds were calm, affording us a rare opportunity, but with a large rolling swell that was reminiscent of big moving hills of water. Out here, in waters that were close to one thousand feet deep, just before the abyssal depths that surround, we had an exciting swim, all the more so because of the unusual location. And in addition to the whales, a pair of 3’ long silky sharks who curiously circled at the surface greeted our swimmers, too. This was a rare treat as sharks are rarely seen in the area due to long-term heavy pressure from local commercial fishing interests.

“Rowdies” hard at work

For all the whales here playing the mating game, this seemed to be the week of the rowdies. As the season moves ahead the competition between the males can get quite intense and the mood seemed hot this week. On several occasions we were able to track and watch groups of as many as 8 male humpbacks as they fought for the coveted position of escort at the female’s side. It is a classic test of fitness where the female sets the pace and sometimes adds energy to the competition by engaging in provocative surface behaviors to spur the males on. On the other side the males, and especially the escort fighting to maintain his position, will engage in a variety of threat display behaviors such as blowing bubble trails; vocalizing with trumpeting, growls and more; and “motorboating”, which is swimming with an exaggerated head-up, back-arched position intended to intimidate challengers.

A Rowdy “motorboating”, on right

The fun thing about tracking rowdies is that while some behaviors, as spectacular as they are, are over in a few moments, a fully engaged group of rowdies can be active for an hour or more. Sometimes we have seen large groups charging around in the distance all day, their blows puffing on the horizon like a steam train. There is really nothing that can match the extended displays of hundreds of thousands of pounds of fired up male humpback whales for sheer high-energy excitement.

Some of the action in an extended rowdy group competition

Mingan Island Cetacean Study

We often have guests who are returning to the Silver Bank for a repeat visit but this week one guest was making a return of a different sort. Richard Sears first visited the Silver Bank in the 1980s as part of a group of up and coming whale researchers first studying the amazing breeding aggregation on the Silver Bank, coming here before the area was even declared a sanctuary by the Dominican authorities. Richard made numerous expeditions during those years and has also traveled with Conscious Breath Adventures on three other occasions, too. All of us were keen to hear his stories and the evening presentation he offered about his current work with blue, finback and humpback whales at his research station in Mingan Island, Quebec, Canada. We visited his station a few years back and if you are ever looking for an adventure with blues and finbacks, make the trek yourself! Learn more at

The wreck of the Polyxeni, circa 2008

Richard was bemused by another current aspect of the Silver Bank: the demise of the wreck of the Polyxeni. The 240’ freighter Polyxeni grounded on the reef in the 1970s and when Richard and company were here in the ‘80’s it was still an essentially intact ship. But the years have not been kind and after 2017’s hurricanes Irma and Maria, which crossed directly through the area, virtually nothing remains visible above the waterline except at low tide. It was remarkable to think that he was now swimming over what he used to stand on…

The wreck of the Polyxeni, 2018

A big, healthy boy, ready to head north soon

Everyone loves an exciting finish and in that spirit our best interaction of the week occurred on the last afternoon, when our boat Fluke found a mother and calf resting in the reef. The calf is a big healthy boy, estimated at somewhere over two months in age based on his size and behavior. Generally a mother with a younger calf tends to keep it very close by but as they get older and stronger mothers are often more confident and comfortable and don’t mind if the calf wanders a bit further away. In this case that meant repeatedly swimming over to be with us closely in the water while mom slept below. Sometimes during surface breaks it meant performing a series of sky high breaches, sometimes coming 100% out of the water, fluke and all, which is unusually athletic. From all indications this big guy will be ready for his trip north very soon. And after a couple hours and as the day and week wound down mom finally decided to join the show and she fired off just as we were finishing our last swim of the week. What a great send off for another unique week.

See you next week!

A breaching send off

Whales At Our Mooring


Humpback Whales Visit Our Mooring on the Silver Bank

Not all whale experiences on the Silver Bank happen in the water, or even on a boat! I was flying the drone just to get a few shots of the area when this group of four passed by. It is a mother and calf accompanied by an escort and challenger who reveal themselves just after the one minute mark. At the 01:15 mark the escort, strategically positioned between mother and challenger, blows a lovely bubble trail, a threat display meant to intimidate the challenger who would displace him if he could.


Conscious Breath Adventures’ Cruise Report, Week 5: Feb. 24 – Mar. 2, 2018


Greetings Whaleswimmers!

Thanks for joining us here with our Cruise Report for the fifth week of our 2018 Silver Bank humpback whale season. We had a boatload of guests including many returning friends and even a little bit of family, a special treat when so far from home, as well as a bundle of new visitors, future friends one and all. It was another delightful week out there with whale action in abundance for everyone…

I hope you enjoy this post but don’t forget!: if you want to join us we still have a little space available on our March 31 – April 7 cruise, and a special offer to help! Contact us right away for more information.

Vivid rainbow on the Silver Bank

Vivid rainbow on the Silver Bank

The Bright Side of Gray Weather

The week started out with a bit of weather but nothing too bad; breeze and a few showers but sometimes a bit of weather just adds a layer of richness to the experience. So it was on Monday morning, when rain showers just after sunrise created some of the most vivid rainbows imaginable (above). 

Rain above, whale below

Whales Don’t Mind the Rain

Heading out in our whaleboats after, we crossed paths with a mother, calf and escort just as another heavy shower overcame us. But when the plan is to go swimming, getting a little wet is no problem at all and the whales didn’t mind the rain, staying very close alongside as we drifted (above), just a few feet away, almost close enough to touch, repeatedly circling and passing just below, even as the rain came tumbling down from above (below).

Mother humpback & calf in the rain

Swimming with Mystery

The Mystery Deepens

Later in the day we met and swam with a familiar friend, the mother whale we know as Mystery, and her calf. You probably remember her as the first whale we swam with this season, the whale on my business card, and so much more than that. We have a deepening history with Mystery! This has been three sightings so far this year and she is one of our favorites this season. Our guests had a delightful swim and it was great to see her and her bouyant baby again.

Curious humpback

Sleep Need Not Be Boring

On another day we found a pair of adult whales having a bit of a nap, a great situation for a swim. This laid-back pair was resting on a 15 minute breath cycle which meant four times an hour they would slowly rise to the surface to check us out, sometimes more closely than others. It was an easy afternoon in the Big Pool…

Guests swimming with a logging humpback

An Awesome Family

Even with all this great action the highlight of the week came on our last day when things started well and got even better. The weather was perfect and shortly after starting our morning excursion we found a mother and calf with the mom floating like a log on the surface, just beautiful. All our guests had the chance to swim with the peaceful pair on and off over the course of the entire morning, Mom giving us the chance to slowly swim all the way around for a 360º view. Hats off to our guests who followed the directions from the guide perfectly, a truly soft in-water encounter

A humpback whale calf embraces its mother

Breaching calf, pec-slapping mother

Not Just Underwater

But swimming wasn’t all we saw. During these longer encounters we routinely take periodic breaks to give the whales some privacy and allow our guests a chance to have a snack and warm up in the sun. On one such break momma decided she and her calf wanted some exercise so they launched off on a series of breaches and pec-slaps, one after the other, both at once, every combination imaginable (above). It was a tremendous show and after it was over and the whales settled back down for a nap we joined them again back in the water. It was a fantastic morning but the day wasn’t over yet.

Breaching humpback whale

Action Above

Working through lunch (if you can call this work) one of our boats continued to track mom and calf as they continued the show, breaching more than 20 times all around the boat. On one occasion the mother slowly swam just a few feet below the boat before accelerating with one or two pumps of her tail into a full breach just yards from the boat. Unbelievable!

Lobtailing calf

A Flubbery, Rubbery Calf

Meanwhile our boat found another mother and calf in the reef, mother resting and calf playing at the surface, lobtailing vigorously and rolling and playing in the rafts of Sargasso weed floating on the surface. Once he settled down and our swimmers were in the water this was a boisterous little boy who was very happy to find he had something other than seaweed to play with. He gave us a number of close passes and looked us over closely before mother decided he was misbehaving and moved a short way off.

The playful calf swims close for a better look

A Song for the Road

We went out to join the other boat, still tracking a group of rowdy males giving another great show but when we got there the show had stopped, at least the topside part, because moments later we could hear the distinctive notes of a singing whale coming up through the hull of the boat. We had a singer! And so for the last hour of the last afternoon of Week 5 we swam in the bone shaking song of a male humpback whale, serenading us as the sun settled toward the western horizon… 

Full moon over the Silver Bank

One of Two

And as if all that wasn’t enough, after the sun set at the end of the day, we were treated to one of just two full moons we see every season, a brilliant moon that turned the seas mercury silver… what a day, what a week…

Thanks for reading and remember that if you want to join us at the end of March we still have space and are offering big discounts so get in touch!

See you next week!

Capt. Gene Flipse

On our mooring on the Silver Bank

A Humpback Whale’s Motherly Love: An Aerial Point of View


Greetings from the Dominican Republic between weeks 5 & 6 of our 2018 season!

We here are Conscious Breath Adventures are very excited to add a new piece of photo/video equipment to our operation: a new camera drone! While we always enjoy taking and sharing photos and video of the humpback whales, and our guests’ interactions with them, this addition will literally take the experience to a whole new level.

We have been eagerly awaiting the right set of circumstances for a first flight and finally had all the critical elements align perfectly on March 2, 2018, when we spent a few hours in the company of a mother humpback and her calf on a calm, sunny fray close by our mothership. The mother and calf alternated between periods of resting and periods of surface activity. During the resting periods we had excellent in-water encounters (see more here), while the active intervals allowed us to capture some enchanting video from above. 

In this video watch as the mother and calf playfully interact with each other, affectionately jostling each other in a way that is reminiscent of a lioness and her cubs. Seeing them like this, and face-to-face in the water, it is hard to come up with another word that describes the relationship better than love. 

Watch for future aerial footage in the future, hopefully we are just getting warmed up. We can’t wait to share even more.

Until then, enjoy!

Conscious Breath Adventures’ Cruise Report, 2018 Week 1: Jan. 27-Feb. 2

2018 Week 1 Cruise Report


Hello and welcome to the first Cruise Report of our 2018 humpback whale season, Conscious Breath Adventures’ tenth, and my sixteenth, on the Silver Bank! We’ll be sharing highlights and photos from each week we spend with the whales this spring, and hope you can share in our appreciation for these majestic animals. 

As our guests came aboard on our first Saturday afternoon of the 2018 season we were excited to welcome them and keen to get going but the weather had other plans. An especially powerful weather system was impacting the area and forecasts called for two days with winds gusting over 30 knots and seas of up to fifteen feet! Conditions like that are nothing to play around with and the Comandante of the Port took the very unusual step of actually closing the port, refusing to grant the required dispatches to any vessel, including the Silver Bank operators, until conditions improved. Without official permission we could not leave even if we wanted to; given the conditions, we did not want to.

We filled the downtime with presentations, discussions and good food and the fleet was finally granted permission to depart so by Tuesday morning we were safely moored on the Silver Bank. Trying to make up a little lost time, guests and crew rallied and we headed out in our whale boats as quickly as possible.

Mystery Whale:

Each of our custom whale boats, Pec & Fluke, quickly sighted numerous whales and Fluke, started tracking a mother and calf with her escort male. At one point early on in the track the mother lifted her tail fluke high giving a very good look at the unique markings on the underside that are useful for identification (above). I recognized this whale immediately! She has been featured in several previous Cruise Reports but is a bit of a mystery because, prior to sharing my photos, she had never been photographed and was not in any of the identification catalogs for the North Atlantic whales (she is now). She is not a ‘known’ whale like many in the catalogs and we still don’t know where she spends her summers feeding. But she is so photogenic that I’d used her image on my business card (below).

Mystery Whale on my business card from 2009

Mystery Whale on my business card from 2009










So here was this whale, from my card, unknown to the various catalogs, which only I’d somehow managed to photograph over the years, and she ends up being the first whale we swam with for the 2018 season! We had a great swim with the trio and I will be looking for her the rest of the season, too. With this serendipitous first encounter and a few other good swims, too, our first afternoon was a very happy reward for the earlier weather bomb.

Mystery Whale and her calf









Super Blue Blood Moon:

A little later in the week we were treated to a treat of a celestial nature when we had a brilliant view of a Super Blue Blood Moon. It is identified as “super” because the moon was at perigee, the closet point to Earth in its orbit, making it appear bigger and brighter; “blue” because it was the second full moon in the month (as in “once in a blue moon”); and “blood” because it was also eclipsed by the Earth’s shadow as it transited, giving it a reddish color as the shadow passed. In our hemisphere we did not get to see the blood because that was occurring in the South Pacific Ocean areas but it was a very silvery night on the Silver Bank nonetheless.

Rainbow on the Silver Bank

Rainbow on the Silver Bank












On other days we had some spotty weather but wonderful rainbows (above) and thrilling views of all sorts of topside action, too. We witnessed at close distances lobtailing, pec slapping, breaches and double breaches, sometimes only yards away from the boat. In some photos you can see the anemones on the barnacles on the chin of the whale.

Making up for the time we lost due to weather at the beginning, we modified our itinerary to get out on the water earlier in the morning and stay out later in the afternoon, maximizing every minute of daylight. The biggest payoff came on Friday, when we stayed on location for an extra half day beyond our regularly scheduled sunrise departure. Knowing we had to leave the Silver Bank after lunch, with the clock ticking, our boat Pec located a mother, calf and escort resting in clear protected waters up in the reef. For the last two hours of the cruise all our guests were treated to a curious calf, a very restful mother, and a diligent escort who circled about before settling in for a good nap, too. As time finally ran out we left them as we found them, snoozing peacefully in the reef where we will be looking for them again next week. We hope you’ll join us then and, one day, maybe even here in the waters of the Silver Bank!



Bahamas Dolphins Cruise Report: Week 3, July 13-20, 2013

Our third and final week in the Bahamas started on the rainy but warm afternoon of July 13th with guests boarding the M/V Carib Dancer in West End, Grand Bahama Island before cruising north along the western edge of the Little Bahama Bank toward the White Sand Ridge. We were joined by a full boat of repeat guests hailing from the UK, Belgium, California, Maryland and Connecticut as well as our youngest dolphin swimmer of the season at age 6!

Sugar Wreck

Pillar coral on the Sugar Wreck

Sunday, July 14:

On Sunday the 14th, our first full day on the water, we visited the Sugar Wreck, the one hundred year old remnants of a molasses barge that is a magnet for all sorts of marine life, large and small. Resting on the bottom in just 18′ of water, everyone enjoyed snorkeling or diving on this protected haven and we spent time with a favorite marine reptile, a resident sea turtle. Unfortunately, though, in a full afternoon of searching we did not find any dolphins…

Stingray on Sugar Wreck

Stingray being photographed on the Sugar Wreck


Bottlenose Dolphin on the White Sand Ridge

Bottlenose Dolphin on the White Sand Ridge

Monday, July 15:

Today commenced with another beautiful dive and snorkel session on Hogfish Reef. Everyone, even our youngest snorkeler, enjoyed the sharks that frequent this reef.

After lunch and a short cruise north, the Bank gave us what we were looking for when we located a pod of over a dozen bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) actively crater feeding in calm, clear water. The pod was content to let our swimmers watch as they used their highly refined echolocation to hunt for razorfish (Xyrichtys novacula) buried in the sand, and they checked us out closely when they surfaced for air. It was a fantastic extended interaction with a wonderful group of wild dolphins engaging in their natural behavior.

Although it did not happen on this day, is not unusual to see spotted and bottlenose dolphin intermixing and sometimes engaging in sexual behaviors. The possibility of hybrid offspring has been conjectured and we had a bit of compelling visual evidence to support the theory as one of the large female dolphin in the pod had the form of a bottlenose and some of the markings of a spotted dolphin along her flank (below). She certainly looked like she could be such a hybrid!

As much as we love the bottlenose dolphins, our focus of these Bahamas cruises are the spotted dolphins. As we were now at the end of two full days on the water without sighting even one spotted dolphin, the decision was made to relocate overnight to Bimini, more than 80 nautical miles to the south, another area where spotted dolphins reside and where we had successful interactions the week before.

Possible spotted dolphin/bottlenose dolphin hybrid?

Possible spotted dolphin/bottlenose dolphin hybrid?


Storm clouds over Bimini

Storm clouds over Bimini

Tuesday, July 16:

Unfortunately, unseasonably bad weather made for a bumpy crossing, one slightly green child, and  in-water time limited to snorkeling and diving the reefs found along the western lee shore of the island. However, our patience would ultimately pay off and our efforts were rewarded over the last two days of the week…


Spotted dolphins approach the bow

Spotted dolphins approach the bow

Wednesday, July 17:

The day broke with lingering clouds and scattered showers, but conditions were fine to start the daily adventure with a snorkel and dive on the famous, mysterious Bimini Road, also known as the Road to Atlantis. This ancient underwater geometric rock formation has been the center of controversy, research and new-age philosophies over the years but we just know that it is a shallow reef with profuse marine life and it is always a fun place to get wet.

In the afternoon we got what we were looking for when we located a large pod of spotted dolphins and for more than an hour had an exciting and energetic interaction with dolphins young and old. Several swirling groups of 4-8 dolphin swan into, through and all around our swimmers, sometimes amassing into larger pods of nearly two dozen dolphins that left everyone exhausted, winded and grinning ear to ear before the sun slipped down toward the horizon.

Spotted dolphins near Bimini

Spotted dolphins near Bimini


Spotted dolphins near Bimini

Spotted dolphins near Bimini

Thursday, July 18:

Our last dolphin day began with calm seas and a pleasant ride out to the wreck of the Hesperus, a small tugboat that sank in less than 20’ of water to the northeast of Bimini. This wreck is a magnet for teeming schools of grunts, barracuda, crawling conch and southern stingray, earning it the nickname of Stingray Wreck.

The Hesperus is conveniently located on the edge of the Bimini dolphin grounds so after finishing our dives there it was and slow and easy cruise over lunch in search of the dolphins one last time. Happily, our luck held true and we relocated many of the same pod of spotted dolphins from yesterday afternoon, with similar happy results. In spite of the the challenges from earlier in the week, everyone loves a strong finish and the happy memories from another successful adventure.


Bahamas Dolphins Cruise Report: Week 2, July 6-13, 2013

Sunday, July 7:
After boarding the boat in West End yesterday afternoon and a short cruise last night, our guests awoke this morning on the Little Bahama Bank 15 miles north of Grand Bahama. Following breakfast we started our activities with a visit to the ever-popular Sugar Wreck. Sugar Wreck never fails to please and during our snorkels and scuba dives we saw a multitude of fish and a sleepy hawksbill turtle, the same turtle we swam with here last week! Exploring this wreck always feels like swimming in a giant aquarium and we love it.

When cruising the Bahamas’ banks you never know what you may find while looking for dolphins and this afternoon provided a remarkable example. During our search we sighted a large “bait ball”, a school of small fish which appeared to be a species of grunt. Below them was a large school of much larger, predatory yellow jack that had driven and concentrated the grunts near the surface to feed on them. With an exciting opportunity to experience some of the natural diversity of the area, a group of snorkelers suited up and jumped in only to discover that below all this surface action was a gathering of more than sixteen nurse sharks slowly cruising en-mass! It was an unexpected and thrilling discovery and it just goes to show that surprises can be found every time you enter the water.

The dolphins eluded us for the day but the beautiful waters, great food and fun snorkeling and diving kept everyone in good spirits.

Monday, July 8:
We started today with a snorkel and scuba dive on Hogfish Reef, a healthy patch reef near the edge of the Bahama Bank. The variety of marine life is always fun to see but the highlight on this dive were the 8-10 Caribbean reef sharks that were cruising the reef. It offered a perfect opportunity for some of the more anxious swimmers to appreciate the beauty of the sharks and to realize that any fears they had were unfounded.  It’s always fun to ask someone who is concerned about a shark they see “You saw a shark!? What did it do!?” and to have them reply “Well, it… ummm… swam around!” Usually their concerns disappear shortly after that…

Mid-day we searched for dolphin as we moved north to the White Sand Ridge where we anchored on a small pile of debris left over from an old navigational structure. Even though it is little more than a pile of steel framework, the Lighthouse Wreck is the only structure on a vast plain of pure white sand and it acts as a magnet to large schools of horse-eye jack, mangrove and yellowtail snapper (below), barracuda and stingrays (right).

Later in the day we continued our search as we cruised back south and stopped for a snorkel and scuba dive at a reef named Eldorado. This slightly deeper reef was full of schooling mangrove snapper, barracuda, more Caribbean reef sharks, and even king mackerel and an African pompano, a scarce fish sometimes found on the deeper Bahamian reefs.

The snorkeling and scuba diving has been great fun but our goal is to swim with dolphins. In all our travels today we only saw a couple of bottlenose and not a single spotted dolphin. After considering the situation carefully we decided to relocate overnight from the Little Bahama Bank to North Bimini, on the Great Bahama Bank, where another pod of spotted dolphins resides.

Tuesday, July 9:
After a calm and pleasant overnight crossing we awoke offshore of the island of Bimini. Eager to make the most of the day, we began our search for the local pod of dolphins that live here. It was not long until our patience and persistence was rewarded and our overnight trip justified when we found a pod of at least 22 bottlenose dolphin crater feeding on the expansive sand plains along the edge of the Great Bahama Bank.

The bottlenose dolphin were actively hunting for razorfish. Razorfish are a small species of fish that live near the seafloor in sandy areas and when they are threatened razorfish will plunge themselves 6”-18” into the sand to evade predation. The dolphins are able to cruise the bottom using their powerful echolocation to scan for and pinpoint the fish buried below and then will poke their rostrums into the sand in pursuit. The dolphin almost never miss and when they have caught their prey it leaves a distinct crater-like depression in the sand, giving this specialized feeding behavior the name of “crater feeding”.

This was a fantastic display of crater feeding and we were able to spend nearly five hours in the water watching the feeding and having the curious dolphin enthusiastically interact with the swimmers on the surface when they rose for a breath. With calm, clear, warm waters, shining sun and almost two dozen engaged dolphins, it was a terrific way to make up our dolphin time, and in fact, it was the longest and best bottlenose dolphin encounter any of the Conscious Breath Adventures team had ever experienced.

Wednesday, July 10:
After a pleasant night anchored offshore of Bimini, this morning we spent a couple hours looking for dolphins before stopping for a snorkel and scuba dive at the famous site known as the Bimini Road, also known as the Road to Atlantis. Several New Age philosophies believe that the Bimini area is the location of an unusual energy vortex and is imbued with special metaphysical properties. The Bimini Road is part of this lore as it is an unusual geometric formation of square and rectangular stones (right), a “road” of sorts, with the question being, where did it come from? Could it be evidence of the lost civilization of Atlantis, or even extraterrestrial in nature? We will leave those determinations to better informed scholars, but we just know the Bimini Road is a great place to see corals, fish, turtles, and abundant invertebrate marine life, too!

In the afternoon the energy was high when we again found our quarry, a pod of more than a dozen spotted dolphins. The pod was in a sleep cycle when we first found them but after tracking them for almost an hour, until they showed signs of interest by socializing and bow-riding, this happy bunch of dolphins gave us all a great swim as they swooped, twisted, dove and spun, cavorting and frolicking for another hour. The behavior between dolphins was a thrill to see, particularly between a group of three young dolphin who were obviously playmates (above). The human-dolphin interactions were everything that we could hope for, too, and they left everyone breathless and overjoyed (below). And as if all this wasn’t enough, in the last fifteen minutes of this encounter, the entire pod of twenty-plus bottlenose dolphin from yesterday arrived on the scene, sweeping through like a wave and giving the ultimate sendoff for the day (see photo at bottom of page).

Thursday, July 11:
Today’s weather featured some of the best conditions of our cruises so far, with light winds, calm seas and swimming-pool blue waters in every direction. As with yesterday, our morning search was followed by another snorkel and scuba dive, this time on a reef called Moray Alley where our guests again saw a turtle, barracuda, myriad tropical fish, but alas, no namesake moray eels!

The beautiful conditions carried on to the afternoon when our patience was rewarded with another interaction with about a dozen spotted dolphins. Again the dolphins were socializing heavily, with lots of vocalizations and contact between individuals. A couple of the dolphins were even playing a kind of “patty-cake”, where they would quickly rub their pectoral fins over and under each others, an endearing kind of “hand-jive” that warmed everyone’s already-pounding hearts. It was a wonderful conclusion to an excellent week.

Because we traveled the extra miles to relocate to Bimini earlier this week, Friday was a travel day and everyone was able to rest, share photos and stories, and relax in the hot tub on the way back to Grand Bahama. Two weeks done, one more to go! We can’t wait to see what we will find next!

Bahamas Dolphins Cruise Report: Week 1, June 30 – July 5, 2013

Greetings from West End, Grand Bahama, where we have just completed our first of three week-long cruises to swim with the playful spotted dolphins of the Little Bahama Bank.

Capt. Gene Flipse of Conscious Breath Adventures and Capt. Jeff Pantukhoff of the Whaleman Foundation first met and became friends swimming with these dolphins in 1995, and after almost thirty cruises together in the Bahamas followed by a five year hiatus, we are very happy to make our return to see these dolphins we love so much.

Our group of ten adventurers for this week included a family group of five, two friends from the UK, and three returning guests who have been out with us to swim with the humpback whales of the Silver Bank. It was great to see them again, and to make some new friends, too.

In the weather almanacs, July historically has the calmest winds and seas that the Bahamas has to offer all year, but this week was the exception! Our week started windy and with a few storms, but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm as we left the marina on Sunday evening and started north onto the Little Bahama Bank, and ended as an excellent adventure had by all.

During the days that followed we visited some of our favorite locations on the Bank, all the while keeping a watchful eye for the spotted dolphins and bottlenose dolphins that make this area their home.

Monday, July 1:

It was still choppy this morning but early on we found a single spotted dolphin around an hour after getting underway and were left wondering where his friends were? In the same area later in the day we came across another spotted dolphin along with four bottlenose and we think it was the same dolphin with some interspecies buddies. In the mid afternoon we had our first big interaction when we encountered a group of 8-10 friendly spotted dolphins and spent a half hour playing as hard as we could. It was a great start to the trip!


Tuesday, July 2:

This morning we made a stop at the Sugar Wreck, a molasses barge that wrecked and sank in just 18’ of water more than one hundred years ago. It is an oasis of life and a super place to snorkel and dive with myriad species of fish, sharks, rays and more. In the afternoon we cruised the edge of the Bank northward and twice found pods of 9-12 bottlenose which gave us great dolphin watching as they cruised with the boat. Then later we were happy to jump back in with a group of more than a dozen spotted dolphins who gave us another half hour of the best kind of exercise there is!


Wednesday, July 3:

The unseasonable wind continued today but the sun was shining brightly and spirits remain high. After a pleasant cruise from our anchorage there was plenty of dolphins to see. Cruising in the area locally referred to as the South Bar, we again found pods of 10-20 bottlenose and enjoyed a great show as they socialized, played or rode the bow wave of the M/V Carib Dancer. We also had a short but sweet swim with a pod of four spotted dolphins whose energy was higher than we were able to match. What made this encounter special was that while we were swimming with the spotted dolphins, several bottlenose joined in the action, so we were swimming with two species of dolphin at the same time!


Thursday, July 4:

This morning we decided to stay a little closer to where we’ve had our greatest success so far, in the area referred to locally as the South Bar. The South Bar is essentially a enormous sandbar that sits right on the edge of the Bahama Bank, with water colors shading from swimming pool blue to the deep purple-blue of the Gulf Stream depths. We’ve seen bottlenose and spotted dolphins here nearly every day and the view is always spectacular. We did swim with maybe 10 spotted dolphins for a short while but the highlight was our deep water adventure, where the intrepid group of snorkelers drifted for more than half a mile along the edge of the Bank where the waters quickly drop from 40’ to 100’ and more. Along with lots of fish, we saw three species of sharks, including Caribbean reef sharks, a lemon shark and a big great hammerhead, too! We followed that with another stop at the ever-popular Sugar Wreck where a friendly turtle introduced himself to the group.


Friday, July 5:

Sometimes it works out that the best comes last and with respect to the dolphins, that was true today! After having a delicious breakfast of omelets made to order, we pulled anchor and had barely traveled 100 yards before we found a pod of twelve spotted dolphins coming our direction. Within moments we were all in the water swooping, spinning and diving, playing at full speed with a mix of young calves and their mothers and some of the heavily spotted elders. The calves were especially enthusiastic, whistling as they zipped up, down and around. After an exciting half hour we watched from the boat as the pod cruised along, feeding on flying fish that crossed their paths. Then the pod approached the boat again as if in invitation so we answered the call and joined them for another half hour that was even more fun than the first. It was a fantastic few hours with the dolphins.

Afterward we had another drift on the deep reef, seeing a few more sharks and a huge green moray eel, before climbing out and setting course for the marina at the end of a very fun week.







The International Whaling Commission Takes Interest In Whale Watching

IWCThe International Whaling Commission (IWC), is the organization that deals with the management of whales around the world, best known for their worldwide ban on commercial whaling. Because of this ban, many people think of the IWC as a conservation organization, but in fact the IWC was originally, and still is, a commercial fishery organization whose main objective is the commercial utilization of their primary resource, in this case cetaceans.

The IWC became a defacto conservation organization when the over-exploitation of whales and dolphins drove many species to the brink of extinction, threatening the very resource the IWC oversees. In 1982 the IWC banned commercial whaling to allow species to recover to the point that commercial harvest can resume in a better-managed way. That moratorium and recovery are still underway today.

However, during the intervening decades much in the world and her oceans has changed. Globally, every ocean and sea is at greater risk than ever before from a wide range of threats including waste disposal, persistent toxic chemical contamination, and ocean acidification, to name but a few. As awareness of these issues and understanding of the complex nature of whales and dolphins has grown, so has the deep-seated conviction that, regardless of numbers and management strategies, there is no longer a justifiable reason to resume the harvest of any cetaceans.

The IWC Five Year Strategic Plan for Whalewatching

The IWC Five Year Strategic Plan for Whalewatching

One reason that this environmental awareness has spread has been through the relatively new industry of whale and dolphin watching (collectively referred to as whale watching). While whaling has been

practiced for centuries, whale watching first got its start in the 1970s on the waters of New England and since its humble beginnings is now a global industry that has helped tens of millions of people to make a connection with live cetaceans around the world.

Whale watching is widely touted as a sustainable commercial use of cetaceans, and with estimated earnings of more than two billion of dollars in  2012, it has formally caught the attention of the IWC, whose interest is in any and all commercial use of the resource, lethal or non-lethal. The IWC has established a Standing Working Group on Whale Watching; created a Five Year Strategic Plan; and recently hosted a Whale Watch Operator’s Workshop on the subject.

Attending members of the Responsible Whale Watch Operators Partnership

Attending members of the Responsible Whale Watch Operators Partnership

As head of Conscious Breath Adventures, I was invited by the Working Group to attend this conference in Brisbane, Australia on May 24-25, 2013. Joined by several fellow members of the Planet Whale Responsible Whale Watch Operator’s Partnership, along with dozens of other operators from around the world. The group gathered for two days of intensive discussion on a number of issues critical to the future of the industry.

Subjects of discussion on the agenda focused on five areas of interest:
1)   Onboard science
2)   Assessment & monitoring
3)   Capacity building
4)   Developing and/or enhancing responsible whale watch operations
5)   Management aspects

Several themes were prevalent at the meeting. First was an acknowledgement that with so many different species watched by so many in very diverse locations, it is impractical to try to impose uniform practices or protocols everywhere. The consensus is that regional issues require regional solutions. So, for example, whale watch guidelines for Massachusetts’ Stellwagen Bank may not be appropriate for whale watch operations in Iceland, or on the Dominican Republic’s Silver Bank.

Another matter is the recognition among most operators that there is a need and a benefit to creating and maintaining some sort of international association or organization of whale watch operators to address common global issues and work with agencies such as the IWC. Both of these points are in direct alignment with the core philosophies of the Responsible Whale Watch Operator’s Partnership and our members look forward to being involved in this future association.

On the first subject of onboard science, there is an almost universal agreement that responsible whale watch operators have a unique platform to support and contribute to cetacean research; and that valuable contributions can be made even in the context of an ecotourism activity. There is also recognition that operators and the general public need more direct access to the findings that come from the research they support.

Regarding assessment and monitoring, the objective is to develop appropriate monitoring programs to detect potential significantly adverse impacts on individual cetaceans and populations. Questions discussed included how to increase the use of whale watch operators in this research; if operators should be included in this research; and how to improve access to the resultant data.

The third item on the agenda was the issue of capacity building, which means recognizing and supporting opportunities to develop responsible whale watching as an industry. This is an interesting subject, as whale watching is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel and tourism industry. The IWC is interested in learning how to identify new locations where whale watching is possible; how to promote the creation and use of best practices in those areas; and how to encourage community participation in a new local industry. Everyone agrees that as the industry grows there is a need to encourage research and responsible best practices, but the questions of how to identify opportunities, and even if it is appropriate, were harder to answer.

The subject of developing and enhancing responsible whale watch operations brought lively discussion with many contributions from attendees. Questions discussed were how to market whale watching responsibly (top answer: by managing customer expectations); what organizations can help develop whale watching locally; how to create a common community of practice for an area, so that all operators use equivalent techniques; and even matters such as boat requirements and operational health and safety. One suggestion was to have established operators act as consultants to new operations or offer “internships” to key personnel to allow for on the job training with the IWC helping to fund such exchanges.

The question of management had the most feedback of all as attendees discussed the value of methods such as licensing or permitting to regulate number, type and size of vessels; how to regulate approach frequency, distance, type of interaction and duration; closed seasons and times; the value of guidelines vs regulations; and enforcement requirements to ensure compliance. There was also discussion of educational tools and training for operators and staff. On these subjects the consensus was that licensing and regulation is essential for the well being of the whales and for the industry.

On the subject of management I was able to offer our operations in the Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic as an example of a very successful permitting and regulatory scheme. As most readers of Whale eMail know, Conscious Breath Adventures engages in “swim-with” activities with humpback whales. I was able to show how very limited permitting and well thought-out regulation, combined with fortuitous geography, allow for a very successful, low-impact and sustainable activity that is an incredibly specialized and powerful way for people to connect with whales. Without the regulatory controls put in place by the government of the Dominican Republic, the welfare of the whales and success of the activity would be greatly diminished.

I am grateful for the opportunity to attend the Whale Watching Workshop and contribute to these important discussions. As with many such meetings, the results from the discussions may come some time in the future and work is underway, but it is heartening to see a greater recognition of the value of the whale watch industry and the greater value of living cetaceans themselves. Conscious Breath Adventures looks forward to contributing to advancing these sustainable agendas.

Conscious Breath Adventures’ Cruise Report: Week 10, March 30-April 5, 2013

Conscious Breath Adventures' Cruise Report: Week 10, March 30-April 5, 2013

Wow! The 2013 humpback whale season on the Silver Bank has come to an end. It was a wonderful few months with the whales and, with forgiveness requested for my short break, I hope you enjoy this final Cruise Report.

I find that the last week of the season is always a bit of a whirlwind. After nine weeks of continuous activity the final week always seems to pop up suddenly and then we find ourselves doing everything for the “last” time: our last Sunday afternoon, our last natural history presentation, our last slice of banoffee pie for dessert (!). Then suddenly it’s all over, we take a parting look at the wreck of the Polyxeni (what will it look like next year?), give our thanks and say our goodbyes to the whales. Then the cleaning and packing takes over and before you know it, we are thinking about the next season again; which we are… but the good news is that it is just nine months until the 2014 season begins!

Breaching humpback calf

Breaching humpback calf
(click for larger view)

Week 10 was a great mix of whale action for us. The surface activity was going on strong all around us and throughout the week our guests were able to see some of the very best up-close displays of breaching we’ve had this entire season. Sunday afternoon featured a mother with her enthusiastic calf giving us a show (left) and we had an even better display later in the week when another mom and calf both got into the act, with the mother repeatedly launching herself near the boat with tremendous impact (below). It just never gets old!

Splashdown after a breach

Splashdown after a breach


Rowdy humpback whales

Rowdy humpback whales
(click for larger view)

As the season moves on different behaviors come to the fore, and this week we also saw more, larger and more determined rowdy groups, too. Earlier in the season, with more available single female whales in residence, there were more opportunities for the eager males, but as more of those single females became pregnant and depart the Silver Bank, the ratio of available female to male whales changes and the competition becomes more intense. Several times during the week we were treated to the thrill of large rowdy groups vying for the affections of a female. It is just amazing to witness these animals (at 35 tons each, more than 800,000 pounds of raging humpback) charging hard in a tight pack of muscle and energy. And even more amazing when the female in hot pursuit takes a short break close to our tender and we find ourselves surrounded by a dozen or more whales close enough to touch and yet supremely in control of the race and their ocean.Charging rowdy whale

Mother and calf humpback whaleEven in the late season there were still plenty of whales to be found and it was interesting to note that in the last couple weeks of our time here we saw some of the smallest and youngest calves of the whole season. These are late-season babies, born in the closing weeks of March, lingering with their mothers while they gain the strength they need for the northward migration. They have a long swim in front of them and we wish them all a safe trip!

Mother humpback & calf

Mother & calf
(click for larger view)

In the water we had plenty of opportunities although some of the whales seemed at times restless, as if thinking about their northward trip. We enjoyed in-water encounters with a number of mothers and calves and ended our week, and my twelfth season on the Silver Bank, gazing into the big brown eye of one of the most peaceful humpback mothers we’ve met to date. It’s an image that will sustain me over the next nine months!

At the end of it all we find ourselves back at the Ocean World Marina where we packed up our things and on Saturday morning bid farewell to the M/V Sun Dancer II as they departed on their 6 day cruise back to their home port in Belize, off for another season of scuba diving the barrier reef there. We wish them a safe trip and look forward to seeing them all again next year.

Hidden waterfall and swimming hole

Hidden waterfall
& swimming hole
(click for larger view)

Kite Beach

Kite Beach
(click for larger view)

After a bit of cleaning and maintenance of our two boats, Pec & Fluke, we had a few days to enjoy some of the local attractions here in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is a beautiful, lush country with warm and friendly people and it was nice to have the chance to explore a bit more. Highlights were a trip to a local amber mine; a day walking the beaches near Cabarete; and a hike into some of the less-traveled waterfalls in the area, with deep, cool swimming holes. We also now know a great deal more about some of the local establishments where some of our guests may like to stay in the future and look forward to helping you plan an even more meaningful trip to this part of the world.

Thanks for following us here (or joining us in person) this season and I hope you enjoyed reading about some of our adventures. We will revisit some of them in the months ahead, and if you have anything you would like to learn more about, please feel free to contact us and let us know. Watch this space for more environmental reporting; photos, sound recordings and videos of the humpbacks. And watch for our next adventure, swimming with wild spotted dolphins in the Bahamas!


Capt. Gene Flipse

Conscious Breath Adventures

Beach near Cabarete

Beach near Cabarete