Conscious Breath Adventures’ Cruise Report: Week 5, February 23-March 1, 2013

Conscious Breath Adventures' Cruise Report: week 5, Feb. 23-Mar. 1, 2013

Welcome to our Cruise Report for Week 5 of our 2013 Silver Bank humpback whale season. We are at the halfway point now, this weekend, and as usual there is a lot going on here in our port of embarkation.

The biggest event of this weekend ashore is a crew change as our valued staff and very good friend, Capt. Jeff Pantukhoff of the Whaleman Foundation, concludes his tour here in the Dominican Republic. By the time we are done here on the Silver Bank in early April, Jeff will have concluded three excursions guiding supporters of the foundation to visit the friendly California grey whales in Mexico’s San Ignacio Lagoon and will be in Japan working diplomatic channels to stop the killing of dolphins in Tajii and elsewhere. Thanks, Jeff, for all the good times and for all your help this season. Safe travels!

Taking Jeff’s place will be CBA guide and naturalist Elisa Buller. Elisa is a scuba diving instructor, captain, photographer and videographer who has worked with spotted dolphins in the Bahamas, and humpbacks in Tonga and on the Silver Bank. Thanks for joining us again, Elisa!

Week 5 was an exceptional week with many stories to tell. We had a bunch of returning guests and many more fresh faces, folks from as far away as Holland , Alaska, California and New England. It was a fun group and they have a shared experience now that they will never forget. Let’s get started… Continue reading

Conscious Breath Adventures’ Cruise Report: Week 4, February 16-22, 2013

Conscious Breath Adventures' Cruise REeport: Week 4, February 16-22, 2013

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Today began our fourth week among the humpback whales of the Silver Bank. We had a boat full of dedicated and soon-to-be whale-lovers including a group from the South Florida underwater photography scene; an adventuress all the way from Australia; a professional cameraman from Brazil, on location shooting for a German production company; and more. And get this: we even had one young lady who had never been on a boat before, and who had never seen a whale in the wild! Wow, what a way to start your whale watching career!

Our overnight cruise out from Puerto Plata was a little bumpy, but it was a classic start for our new whaleswimmers on the Silver Bank. Whales were everywhere to be seen during our final approach to our mooring and by the time we headed out for the afternoon excursion the wind and seas were down and the sun was shining brightly. It was a beautiful afternoon.

It didn’t take long for our boats to find a mother, calf and her escort relaxing nearby. After watching for a short while to assess their behavior before considering an approach, we slipped quietly into the water to begin what would be an easy, extended swim with the whales. Mom would rest for twenty minutes before coming up to breathe, logging on the surface in front of us; the calf would rise every five minutes or so and take a few breaths and cavort around; and every so often the escort would slowly circle and roll just below to have a closer look. Watching the social interactions between the whales gave everyone a look into a few hours in the life of the humpback whales, and with whales like these, the time really flew by.

Humpback mother, calf & swimmer


TW and her calf

TW and her calf

Monday, February 18, 2013

It was breezy this morning but the extensive reef on the Silver Bank provides us a good place to look for whales in calmer waters. The protected waters are part of why the whales come here!

Little more than half an hour after starting the morning excursion, our whale boat,“Pec”, found a mother and calf resting among the rocks. After our standard observation period, with everything looking good, we entered the water for a closer look.

The markings that give "TW" her nickname

The markings that give “TW” her nickname

Mom and calf were resting peacefully, and it only took a few minutes to recognize that this mother was a whale we had swum with during the 2011 season, when she also had a calf. She was easy to recognize from the distinctive markings on her left pectoral fin which look like the initials “TW”, which is what we have called her since.

TW is an amazingly calm and easygoing mother. While she rested just below in the sixty foot deep water, we were able to watch closely as her calf, another pretty little girl, played and frolicked on the surface in front of the delighted swimmers. During the entire morning of swimming, TW never moved more than a few hundred feet, maybe a dozen lengths of her 35′-40′ body. At one point we were even privileged to watch the calf nurse from its mother, sharing a moment of ultimate mother/child intimacy.

Besides the identifying markings on her pec fin, TW has another interesting characteristic that we called her “leaky valve”, which she had in 2011, too. Most of the time she is underwater a thin stream of tiny bubbles escapes continuously from her blowhole, creating a string of glistening bubbles rising to the surface.

As we get to know these whales over time as individuals, it is amazing to learn their unique traits and personalities. TW has her leaky valve, just like in 2011, and the same totally relaxed demeanor as in that past encounter, too. Like last time, she seems to prefer resting in mid-water, not too close to the bottom, and barely moves a muscle when she rises for a breath. Both times we have seen her we were within just a few hundred yards of the mooring and she never moved much farther than that on either day. We sure hope to see her again later this season!

TW's "leaky valve"

TW’s “leaky valve”


Rowdy escort shows his tooth-raked dorsal

Rowdy escort shows his tooth-raked dorsal

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Today was an exciting day for watching whales. The morning’s highlight was a thrilling display of pec-slapping and lobtailing between a single female, her escort and two male challengers. We watched closely as they slowly zig-zagged through the reef while the male whales jostling for position at the female’s side, even approaching closely to challenge the boat at one point, mistaking us for another challenger. The escort was easy to recognize from the distinctive rake marks on his dorsal that were the result of some past incident with one or more orca.

The escort with the rake marks swims near the Wreck of the Polyxeni

The escort with the rake marks swims near the Wreck of the Polyxeni

Later in the afternoon our boats were out and about and found a pair of adult whales resting in a different part of the reef. We quickly recognized the pair as the female and her tooth-raked escort, settled in for a nap after the rigors of the earlier battle! These two whales shared their afternoon with us, the female resting peacefully, the escort occasionally circling below to have a closer look at the swimmers in the water. He was one calm, cool character, slow and easy in his movements, confident in his position. We eventually ended up with them just a few yards of the wreck of the Polyxeni, the Silver Bank’s iconic landmark.

What a fun day, seeing the behaviors change from a rowdy fight in the morning to a contented, accommodating couple in the afternoon.

Female humpback and her dedicated escort

Female humpback and her dedicated escort


A breaching humpback whale calf shows off its skills

A breaching humpback whale calf shows off its skills

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Another breezy day awaited us today and the whales we saw were mostly on the move. Our best activity for the morning was more surface shows, especially this calf which breached repeatedly for us, dozens of times, sometimes at close range.

In the afternoon we were able to spend some time swimming with a mother and her playful calf, too, satisfying our in-water itch quite nicely. This calf was yet another female, the little girls seem to be everywhere this year.

It has been a great week so far, and as the day drew to a close one of our guests, the adventuress all the way from Melbourne, Australia, commented at how remarkable the experience had been so far, saying that already she had seen 75% more whales than she had expected. With a week like this, I can understand her feelings!

A playeful humpback whale calf_____________________________________________________________________________________

Mother, calf and escort socialize in the reef

Mother, calf and escort socialize in the reef

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Today was yet another full day shared with the whales. The morning started with the boats heading out as usual with lots to see but few good opportunities to swim. In the late morning John, one of the crew from the M/V Sun Dancer II and a regular whale boat driver, called on the radio to say that a mom, calf and escort were resting right next to the big boat at the mooring, and he had been in for a swim right there!

We hurried over to join the fun with John and ended up swimming with the trio in the middle of the anchorage all during lunch. A little later they moved farther down the reef where they settled in for long rest nestled in between the coral heads and an exciting display of unusual behavior.

This trio was fun already, always approaching closely during their breath cycles, circling closely below, weaving gracefully between the rocks, always staying nearby, but the bonus surprise was when the mother slowy and expertly rolled right over onto her back and rested in an inverted position, slowly waving her white pectoral fins to maintain her position. We’ve only seen this behavior twice before over the years, so it was a special bonus to wrap up a fantastic week.

It was a fantastic week on the Silver Bank and everyone, guests and crew alike, was thrilled. The cameraman from Brazil, Lawrence (see header image), said that in all his years working with wildlife and especially marine life, he had never imagined that it was possible to become so familiar, so friendly, with wild marine mammals. He said he’d never seen anything quite like it. We have! He’s coming back later this season and can’t wait for a repeat adventure. Neither can we! Until then, stay tuned for next week’s Cruise Report.

A very unusual behavior: a humpback whale sleeping in an inverted position

A very unusual behavior: a humpback whale sleeping in an inverted position







Conscious Breath Adventures’ Cruise Report: Week 3, February 9-15, 2013

Conscious Breath Adventures Cruise Report: Feb. 9-15, 2013

Sunday, February 10:

Our third week started out with a bright and sunny morning with lots of whales to be seen. Come afternoon, for our first excursion, skies darkened a bit and the clouds took some of the gleam off the day. Nevertheless, late in the afternoon we crossed paths with three whales actively socializing on the surface. There was some of the tell-tale behaviors such as rolling, spyhopping, tail-sweeps and swirls that are often seen when the courtships are going strong. Continue reading

Conscious Breath Adventures’ Cruise Report: Week 2, February 2-8, 2013

A Tale of Humpback Whales and a Whale Shark

Conscious Breath Adventures' Cruise Report: Week 2, Feb. 2-8, 2013Week 2 of the Conscious Breath Adventures 2013 humpback whale season started out very nicely, with a calm overnight cruise to our mooring on the Silver Bank. After that, the variety of action and interaction was remarkable, and full of surprises. We have quite a Cruise Report to share with you this week!

(Remember to click the images for a larger view)

Continue reading

Conscious Breath Adventures’ Cruise Report: Week 1, January 26-February 1, 2013

Conscious Breath Adventures Cruise Report: Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 2013

Welcome to the first Cruise Report of the Conscious Breath Adventures 2013 Silver Bank humpback whale season. We are as excited to bring it to you as we are to be here! The concept behind our Cruise Reports is simple: take one or two of the best photos of the day and add a few sentences describing the action. Taken together, the Cruise Reports offer and excellent armchair overview into what a day, week, month and season with the humpback whales is like. I hope you enjoy reading them all season long. Let’s get started! Continue reading

Why We Loved WhaleFest 2012

WhaleFest was simply amazing! Bringing together top cetacean scientists, conservation advocates, whalewatching companies and nearly 6,000 of the ocean loving public, this 4-day marine mammal extravaganza was well worth the jetlag.

In its second year, the event was described as the “world’s premier whale, dolphin and marine festival” and lived up to it.  I was seriously impressed and offer hats off to organizers Ian Rowlands and Dylan Walker, cofounders of Planet Whale.

Preceding the weekend event were concurrent 2-day meetings of whale watching operators and prominent NGO’s.  These two mini-conferences culminated in naming a ‘Responsible Whale Watch Operator of the Year’ from the operator’s camp, and from the conservation side of the hall, launching a new campaign; Save the Whales: Reloaded.

Captain Gene attended the operators meetings and proudly accepted the award on behalf of Conscious Breath Adventures as well as making strides towards Planet Whale’s goals; creating connections and community within the industry that will raise standards and promote ethical whale watching. Continue reading

Conscious Breath Adventures: Winner of the 2012 Planet Whale Responsible Whale Watching Operator Award!

Capt. Gene Flipse of Conscious Breath Adventures receives the 2012 Responsible Whale Watch Award

Today I am excited to announce the outcome of the 2012 Responsible Whale Watch Operator’s Awards at the World Whale Watching Operator’s Conference at WhaleFest, organized and hosted by Planet Whale, located in Brighton, UK October 25-28.

My excitement is hard to contain and I am happy to report that on Friday afternoon Conscious Breath Adventures was awarded the top honor, being recognized and given the honor of receiving the Responsible Whale Watch Award for 2012! Continue reading

Planet Whale’s WhaleFest 2012 in Brighton, UK

Whalefest logoA crisp, autumnal weekend a few weeks hence will find us on the other side of the Atlantic. On the edge of the English Channel no less, where the beaches are much bolder than their soft Florida cousins, and the shoreline is, well, stony*. We’ll be joining one of the largest gatherings of whale and dolphin enthusiasts anywhere on the globe, meeting to celebrate cetaceans  – it’s Planet Whale’s WhaleFest 2012!

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Our Trip to Jeffrey’s Ledge

Our Course on Jeffrey's Ledge while whale watchingIn the late spring of each year we bid farewell to our winter playmates as the humpback whales of the Silver Bank depart for the cooler but tastier waters of the North Atlantic. After fasting for several months in the tropics, they spend the summer months feeding furiously, many in parts of the Gulf of Maine on Jeffrey’s Ledge and waters near Boston and Cape Cod, part of the protected Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. This week Capt. Gene and I finally got to check out their summer home the way thousands of visitors to New England experience whales: on a whale-watching trip from Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was a great day! Here’s what we learned, contrasted to the wintertime experience, and some highlights from our day on the water. Continue reading

Understanding Whales and Ship Strikes

Report on a Special Edition of the Journal of Marine Biology

Special Edition of the Journal of Marine BiologyI was planning on something a little more lighthearted this week, maybe some fun whale facts and crafts for our younger whale-lovers. But, then the MARMAM digest arrived which included a link to a special edition of the open access Journal of Marine Biology, devoted to cetaceans; Protecting Wild Dolphins and Whales: Current Crises, Strategies, and Future Projections.

Guest editors Lori Marino, Frances Gulland, and Chris Parsons have compiled six articles covering what we know about some of the most pressing issues in cetacean conservation. Continue reading