Greetings and welcome back to Conscious Breath Adventures’ Cruise Reports, provided to our readers weekly during our annual Silver Bank humpback whale season. This is the first edition of 2019, for the week of January 26 – February 1. I hope you enjoy following the action in this and future editions and remember that a photo is worth a thousand words so be sure to click on the images in this post for a much larger view.
And what a great start it was. First there was the group. We had several of our friends from the Oceanic Preservation Society aboard, as well as a collection of fellow whale-lovers from the US and Germany, and the entire group instantly came together with a energized optimism that filled us all with excited anticipation. Sometimes you just know that what is about to happen is going to be good.
Our two most frequently asked questions are: will there be whales around on the early/late weeks of our schedule; and, when is the best week to travel? Our ten week season runs from late January through early April, at the peak of the longer time that the whales are here, and we see and swim with whales every week, so the answer is yes, there are whales here all season and any week is a very good week to come to the Silver Bank. This week, the proof was in the doing.
We had numerous sightings of whales around the boat even before we had fully settled in. Sunday was a delightfully typical first day, a time for guests to familiarize themselves with the environment, the boats, their equipment, and the techniques we use to successfully encounter the whales in the water. We had some opportunities for practice those techniques with a few first interactions with the whales, a bit of “Silver Bank lite”, to get everyone warmed up. Topping it all off was a green flash at sunset to end the first day of our first week.
Every week has something that makes it remarkable and this cruise was no exception. On Monday we experienced a combination that we have only seen on the Silver Bank three times before: humpback whales accompanied by a pod of pantropical spotted dolphin! Our whaleboat, Pec was patrolling the reef when we found two adult humpbacks slowly cruising behind the reef, socializing as they eased along, accompanied by approximately twenty dolphin flitting around. Pantropical spotted dolphin are a small species, adults are just over six feet (2m) in length, and they are perpetually zipping around full of energy and fun. After enjoying the show for half an hour we made an entry and were rewarded with almost five minutes of interaction between whales, dolphin and swimmers, with each species of cetacean taking it in turn to give the swimmers a good pass before carrying on with their wanderings. It was an extremely rare treat that we are unlikely to repeat this year – or next. For these guests, it was very good to be on Week 1!
And, as it so happened, adding to the unique nature of the week, one of our fellow operators was hosting a crew from ABC’s Good Morning America show, here on the Silver Bank to report live during their Monday and Tuesday morning broadcasts. They had all sorts of equipment including satellite dishes, drones, cameras, film crew and more. This was to be the first-ever live broadcast from the Silver Bank. It is not often I’d rather watch TV than swim with whales but in this case I admit I was curious to see what they had to share. But with no outside TV available aboard we would have to wait until we got ashore to watch. If you missed it yourself watch it here. It’s a fun report, they did a good job, but what I liked most was that in a couple clips of aerial drone footage you can see humpback whales swimming with dolphins; these are the very same ones we swam with, we saw their drone following the action, too.
One of our best interactions early in the week was with a pair of resting adult whales. With bright sun and good visibility, these two were completely comfortable letting us float nearby and watch as they rested below. They were curious about us, too, and when they rose to breathe every 12-20 minutes the whales chose to pass just below or beside our swimmers as they rested motionless on the surface. As guide in the water it always makes me grin to watch all the swimmers transfixed by a 35’ (10m) whale gliding by below, meanwhile the escort goes unnoticed on the surface close at their side, as if looking over their shoulders wondering what everyone is looking at. The surprised reaction from the swimmers when they realize he’s there is always good for a chuckle.
It is breeding season down here on the Silver Bank and so all the single male and female whales are looking for some companionship and working hard to earn some attention. As a result we are rewarded with some spectacular surface whale watching, too, with the full array of surface social behaviors on display. Over the course of the week our guests got closeup looks at pectoral fin slapping, lobtailing, peduncle throws and massive breaches, including some double breaches. The whale watching was world-class, as always.
The biggest highlight of the week was a delightful encounter with a mother, calf and escort late on Wednesday afternoon. The weather was delightful, with a light breeze, brilliant sun and nice clear water, when we found the trio snoozing in the reef. After an extended observation we slipped quietly into the water where we were able to float with the whales for more than an hour. What really made it special was that these whales were resting just below the surface, almost at our level, so the view was excellent at all times. Mom and calf were in front of us and the very confident escort was content to watch us from below. It was a Silver Bank classic that all our guests were able to share, made even more special by the fact that we later learned that this escort is a known whale that we have swum with in 2011 and 2017 named “Algebra”. Great to see an old friend again!
And as if all this wasn’t enough for one week, mother nature had been taking care of us, too. I mentioned our observing a green flash at sunset on our first evening; we were lucky enough to see the flash again, four nights in a row! It was only Thursday night that we were denied that special show but after the week we had, we felt far from deprived.
Thanks again for joining us this week and this season, we hope you enjoy our Reports as much as I enjoy bringing them to you.
Until next time,
Capt Gene Flipse