Greetings to One and All,
Hello and warm spring greetings from Florida! After a happy return home and a much needed short hiatus, it is my pleasure to welcome you to our tenth and final edition of our Cruise Reports for our 2018 Silver Bank humpback whale season. The whales are heading north to their summer feeding grounds, some have probably already arrived, and we wish them safe travels and a big thank you for spending time with us this year. Thanks to you too, for joining us and reading our updates.
While one can never predict with complete accuracy the actions of weather and wildlife on any week, month or season, we often do find that the weather can be better during the later weeks of the season. We certainly had our challenges with weather early this year but that good-weather generalization came true this last week, with picture perfect conditions; sunny days, light breezes and calm seas. It made for wonderful holiday weather and was such a treat for everyone.
Out on the water there were many whales around. Single female humpbacks come to the Silver Bank and the Caribbean to court and mate and once they are pregnant, depart the area soon after: it’s time to get back to the feeding grounds and start eating for two! Their visits can be rather short. But the females who became pregnant last season have traveled to give birth here or somewhere nearby and once their calf is born they like to stick around a couple months or so for the calf to gain size and strength for the long swim to their summer feeding grounds. Their visits can be much longer. The male whales are here for as many opportunities to mate as possible and many will stick around until “closing time” even as the ratio of available females changes. This leads to some of the larger “rowdy” groups we see each year, too. Of course none of these whales have eaten in many weeks or a few months and some leave as needed to get back to feeding.
With this equation in mind it makes sense that during the week we saw many mothers and calves, often accompanied by a male escort. Generally the maternal pairs maintain fairly discreet and wide spacing between each other, keeping mostly to themselves. Most mothers will avoid others and move away when paths cross, as endearing as it sounds baby humpbacks do not get together for “playdates”. But on two occasions we watched two pairs of mothers and calves swimming side by side for more than five minutes at a stretch, which is very uncommon. And on one occasion we were watching three maternal pairs all within one hundred yards of each other for nearly a half hour, more unusual still!
Many of these whales were active, with big, energetic calves cavorting at the surface with lots of breaching and pec-slapping on display. These “little” ones loved to play and sometimes the adults were happy to join in the action, too. During one memorable display mother, calf and escort were all engaged in a simultaneous communal round of pec-slapping.
In the water the restless energy sometimes made it challenging to keep up but the intensity of these interactions was amazing. Late in the season the lingering mothers often have bigger, older and bolder calves who are not shy and whom she doesn’t have to worry about as much. We had some interactions where our guests, floating motionless in the water, were approached and circled very closely by not just the calves but the mothers, too. It is an experience that gets the heart racing, for sure! They are huge but so aware of themselves and everything around them in the water. Our season’s closing in-water encounters left us in no doubt of that and of course has us already excited for next year!
And sometimes the experience that leaves everyone talking the most isn’t in the water at all. All our guests had a wonderful, extended encounter, with a mother, calf and escort who slowly circled the boats repeatedly, the calf sometimes rolling up to bring its eye out of the water to have a better look at us. I wonder if and hope that they will be safely checking out whale watchers up north in a similar fashion later this summer. Click the image or click here to watch a short video of these fun whales.
Before long the week and our season were coming to an end and we bid a sad farewell to the friendly whales, big sea and green flashes of the Silver Bank, until next January.
In closing, I’d like to give special thanks to the Ministry of the Environment & Natural Resources for creating and maintaining the Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic, which under their stewardship is a model of successful and ethical human-cetacean interaction ecotourism. Many thanks and deep respects to the crew of the M/V Belize Aggressor IV for all their hard work and professionalism during the three months they are away from home and family. Hats off to all the staff of the Ocean World Marina and vicinity during our critical hours ashore every weekend. My many heart-felt thanks to Cloe & Lucaya for their support on the home front while I am away. And my biggest thanks go to both the humpback whales of the Silver Bank and the many wonderful guests who travel with us to visit them. Thank you to all who joined us this year! And for you armchair whaleswimmers, I sincerely hope you enjoyed reading these Reports as much as I enjoyed writing them.