Hello from the Dominican Republic and welcome to our Cruise Report for Week 8 of our 2018 Silver Bank humpback whale season. What a great week it was!
There was lots of action and terrific moon and star gazing under clear skies but a few peak experiences were the unforgettable highlights…
A Sobering Reminder
Some interactions with the whales can be bittersweet and one such encounter happened on Tuesday afternoon when one of our fellow operators called us on the VHF marine radio about a trio of whales comprised of a mother, a yearling calf and an escort. A mother, calf and escort is a common grouping but the yearling calf was what made it different. Usually mothers and calves part ways a little less than a year after birth but on rare occasions a calf will linger on beyond that time, so here was a calf grown one year, a big “toddler” by now. But what was even more unique is that this calf had extensive scarring and a wound from an obvious entanglement that occurred sometime in the past few months, almost certainly with fishing gear on the mother’s feeding grounds. Entanglement is one of the leading causes of unnatural death in cetaceans, killing some 300,000 every year (learn more here). On this calf the right pectoral fin had a deep cut from a rope at the front of the joint and from there clear rope “burns” radiated up and across the shoulder and back of the calf. While the cut and scars were not pretty to see the calf appeared otherwise healthy overall, heavy and energetic. This calf’s point of greatest danger has passed, the calf is still alive in spite of the entanglement and the wound will heal but it will always carry the scars. With such distinctive markings now we will certainly be looking for it in future seasons.
While the calf appeared healthy, the mother was a different story. When she surfaced to breathe she looked unusually thin, skinny, underweight. Why was that? Was it related to the calf’s condition? Is it possible that the mother nursed her calf longer than usual because of its entanglement? How long was the calf entangled and how did that affect the typical weaning schedule? How did an entangled calf affect the mother’s feeding behaviors? Did she not feed while nurturing an endangered offspring? There is no easy way to answer these questions but the questions made them a very enigmatic pair. It was a sobering reminder of the threat of entanglement that all cetaceans face. Given her condition the mother may still be at risk and hopefully the pair will make a safe return to their summer feeding grounds very soon.
Peak of the Week
Fortunately most of our situations here are less dramatic, but are still very exciting. The peak of the week occurred the following day when one of our boats spotted a whale spyhopping nearby and approached for a closer look. What they found was two whales, male and female, who were socializing and courting heavily and which started to interact very closely with the boat. This would soon turn into a pair of “dancers”, which is what it is called when two whales are engaged in this very social behavior, rolling, twisting, sphyopping, blowing bubbles, and even vocalizing with loud chirps and squeaks, all while circling the boat and swimmers very closely for twenty minutes. At one point a third whale joined the scene as a challenger and we all watched from the decks of our two boats as the escort deflected the challenger’s efforts to encroach. Once the interloper departed the pair settled right back into their social interactions and our swimmers spent a total of nearly two exhilarating hours in and out of the water being “mugged” by these two affectionate whales. We only have interactions like this one once, maybe twice a season; we will be talking about this one for years. Once I am back in the office with reliable internet service I will be sharing more photos and video about this day (and others) too.
A Little Bit or a Lot of Everything
This was one of those weeks where a bit of everything and a lot of some things happened. Not only was there our exceptional encounter with the dancers but we observed lots of surface behaviors including large rowdy groups as well as breaching, pec-slapping, lobtailing and more. One pec-slapping escort in particular caught our attention because it had pec fins that were almost completely black on the top. This is an unusual coloration for members of the North Atlantic population, which tend to have fins that are all or mostly white. We even swam with a singer! Time sure flies when you are having fun!
Appropriately enough, our next remarkable highlight of the week occurred on hump day, Wednesday, when our boat “Pec” found a mother and calf resting in the reef just moments after getting underway in the morning. But this wasn’t just any mother and calf, this was the same pair that our guests encountered and swam with during another exceptional interaction on March 1, the same pair featured in this delightful drone footage from that same day. This female was also sighted on the Silver Bank in 2010 but her summer feeding grounds remain unknown. It was a real pleasure to see them again!
With calm seas, clear skies and clear water, the morning was a whaleswimming dream come true as the pair logged at the surface, barely moving as they drifted slowly with the tide. Mom was content to float there on the surface while her calf either snuggled with her or wandered over from time to time to frolic with the swimmers nearby. It was one of those classic interactions that makes the Silver Bank such a special place to visit.
Join us now or later!
With just a few weeks left it will be hard to top this week but it can happen, one never knows what will transpire on any cruise to the Silver Bank. If you can drop everything for a last-minute adventure, we still have a couple spaces remaining on our March 31-April 7 cruise. Contact us for a special offer to help make this dream come true. If that is a little too soon, it is not too soon to make plans for our 2019 season and we are actively taking bookings now. Take a look at our schedule and get in touch to let us know which week best suits you. We look forward to welcoming you aboard.
Until next week,
Capt Gene Flipse