Hello whale-friends and family around the world,
Greetings from the deck of the M/V Sea Hunter, now at the dock at the Ocean World Marina in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. We are here now at the conclusion of our successful first week of the Conscious Breath Adventures Silver Bank humpback whale season.
After nine long months – we are finally back in our favorite place in the world! Hello to the Silver Bank, hello to the humpback whales, hello to our home away from home. We’ve spent a lot of January (and most of the rest of the year) counting the days until our return and it feels so good to be back counting breaches, pec slaps and logging incredible encounters with these big, wild whales.
Our season got of to an international start, with guests from the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Mexico and Columbia supported by our excellent staff and crew from the U.S., United Kingdom and Costa Rica. Once again it was like a General Assembly of the United Nations of Cetaceans!
After a challenging crossing that tested our sea legs somewhat, we were delighted to set up our mooring for the season in our usual spot behind the reef. After some instruction on proper techniques and procedures, we headed out into the water for our practice snorkel and gear check. Then, we were ready to begin the hunt! We were surrounded by the familiar sight of whales breaching on the horizon hither and yon – we were almost too distracted to find the sweet mum and calf pair hanging out not 200m off our bow. As we edged closer, the calf seemed to sense our presence and promptly decided there was some serious showing off to do. We watched a beautiful show of baby breaches as it showed off its ventral pleats, turning tummy to the sky, practicing its dance moves beautifully.
On Monday we found another mother and calf cruising through the coral reef. As many of our readers will know, we never get in the water with a moving or cruising whale. But we will track them at a respectful distance for a little while and these two led us right to a gathering of competitive males, one of the famous “rowdy groups’ of the Silver Bank. We tracked this high-energy display for almost an hour. We estimate it was a group of five whales with the escort blowing some serious bubble trails, swimming and bubbling along for 30m or more at a time. Experiencing that kind of power was definitely the highlight of our day. It is such a humbling experience to watch this large-scale, megaton action up close and personal.
On Tuesday and Wednesday we got even busier in the water, with each of our boats having very different interactions. From curious calves to an even bigger rowdy group (we think perhaps eight whales). But nothing prepared us for the magic that was to happen on Wednesday afternoon when we found three resting adult whales. After spending considerable time lining up the situation perfectly, we were able to slip quietly into the water without disturbing them. When we got in there was one whale that made it very clear she did not mind our presence in the slightest. She was hovering vertically in the water column, head straight down, beautiful white fluke facing up towards us, hanging for about 15 minutes at a time. Then, when her breath cycle had finished, she would surface by spy hopping towards us in the water, slowly surfacing while facing us. Sometimes she surfaced tail first, sticking her tail fluke 3-4m up in the air before she and her two companions would swim a short distance where we could give the group the opportunity for another swim. This continued right until our time out on the water was up, and we headed home delighted to have had several remarkable swims with these three beautiful leviathans.
Now, not all the good stuff on the Silver Bank is in the water. The evenings and nights were fantastic, too. Our week started with a moon at first quarter, and full by the end. The night sky is as enthralling as the whales and on this cruise the night sky had five different planets on display. Each sunset Saturn was there but lost in the clouds and fading light of the western horizon; we couldn’t really see it. But Venus, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune were all visible simultaneously. It was very cool! Every night is different but my two favorite nights on the Silver Bank are the full moon, when the silver moonlight helps give the Bank its name; and the new moon, when there is no moonlight at all, the darkness painted by the Milky Way and a million brilliant stars.
Plus, who can forget our favorite non-swimable whales: the “Cocktail Whales” who visit during our daily Sundowner Celebration…? Love ’em!
Back in daylight, somehow, it seemed that the breaching baby from earlier in the week heard that we had had an encounter that might top the first. Mummy and baby came back to find us, with an escort in tow, and spent a very active morning swimming beside the boat and playing on mum’s nose. They were decidedly too active for us to get in with them, so we enjoyed our time with them before heading in to lunch. But oh, no, no, that simply wouldn’t do for this pair. We foiund them again in the afternoon, and this time they were nice and sleepy. Momma whale was peaceful but attentive and let us in the water for a nice encounter, maintaining her distance so her little one was safe, but close enough to have an incredible look. The escort, too, was lovely and calm and we had another afternoon where both boats were able to get in a few mind-blowing swims. There is nothing like swimming with whales, especially when done with care and respect. There were happy tears, hoots of joy, and then a long journey back to the marina as that was, sadly, the end of our trip.
It was an amazing start to what we hope will be an amazing season- and we can’t wait to update you on what happens next week!
Thanks for following the action,
Capt Gene, Jeff & Cat