Wow, we don’t even know where to begin when telling you about this past week with the humpback whales on the Silver Bank. We knew from the beautiful weather forecast that we had very promising week ahead of us but even we couldn’t have predicted just how wild it was going to be. The Silver Bank was chock full of excitement from the moment we arrived (as usual, click on images for a larger view; it is so worth it).
Now, this week had several returning guests, six in all, and even the most experienced in the lot had to rank this week pretty high up! From the very beginning, the very first in-water encounter really set the tone of the week – no pun intended – with a singing male humpback whale who let us spend nearly two hours listening to his powerful song. He was very chill, completely at ease as we floated close enough that we could feel his music resonating through our bones, from the soles of our feet through our whole body we could feel the melodic vibrations, even bringing a few of the group to tears (that’s him in the photo, flaring his fluke before rising to breathe; anyone know him?). But talk about a tough act to follow! When your first-ever in-water experience with a humpback whale is to swim with a singer, what can top that? (Never heard a singing humpback whale? Click here to listen to a recording from earlier this season).
Well, that raised everybody’s expectations for the rest of the trip, first-timers and veterans alike. Fortunately for us, the humpback whales of the Silver Bank were up for the challenge.
Tuesday dawned a beautiful day, one of the nicest of the season so far, perfect for whatever the whales had in mind. The highlight this day was a big, healthy calf playing hard at the surface. Play serves an important purpose for the calves, letting them build up the strength and endurance they will soon need for their long migration with their mothers to their northern feeding grounds, whether in the Gulf of Maine, the Bay of Fundy, Newfoundland, or points further north. Judging from the size and energy of this big calf, it will be ready to make the trip soon. We were able to track along for more than an hour as the calf breached well over a hundred times (we usually stop counting around 100), a few times coming completely out of the water, tail fluke and all, before crashing down in its side with a big splash. It was such an incredible show that one excited guest – from Hawaii and no stranger to whales herself – exclaimed that she was so happy she felt like she’d just bought a unicorn ranch! I just love that line, and the feeling that goes with it, and it will never be forgotten.
On Wednesday morning Gene’s boat came upon a pair of sleepers early on while Cat’s group had a nice little swim with a mum and calf who’d spent a long time logging at the surface. But before long Gene called to say that perhaps it was worth sneaking over and joining his lot. As it would turn out, that call came just in time. Each group of swimmers got to spend several breath cycles with the whales, enjoying the whales immensely as the inquisitive escort gave good looks on each breath. Then, literally out of the blue, a pod of pantropical spotted dolphins appeared and came to join in on the action! This seemed to spark a sudden reaction from the whales as their energy completely changed. After more than an hour of observation, all of a sudden and as if by the flip of a switch, the two resting whales woke up and started dancing, first with each other (see photo) and then with the guests. We could barely believe our eyes as these two adults whirled and twirled around us at the surface, the dolphins mostly staying out of sight – they are so elusive – mostly only confirming their presence by jumping past us at the surface and disappearing again. The groups of swimmers each took a couple of turns, getting to experience our first dancers of the season for a few exhilarating minutes each. But there was more when suddenly we had yet another change in behavior when two new adults barged in, just as suddenly as the dolphins had, upsetting the dynamic and creating a rowdy group! We were left in the wake of the rowdy group to marvel at the sequence of events that had just transpired as two sleeping whales were awoken by dolphins to dance, then the suitor having to defend his position as escort. All in less than an hour’s time.
By this point in the week the guests had experienced most of what the whales had to offer so of course we started throwing around jokes about how the only thing we were missing was a curious calf underwater. We had seen plenty of calf breaching and surface behavior from all kinds of whales, big and small, but had yet to have a calf give us an especially memorable in-water interaction. Little could we know our jokes would shortly come to fruition. On Thursday Cat and Gene both found themselves a mum and calf and the curiosity from both calves was unbounded. Typically a calf comes up for a breath every three to five minutes or so. Perhaps less if the calf if younger, or more if it is more grown up, but in general, he or she will come to the surface for a few breaths, then gently glide back down to nuzzle with mum.
Neither of these calves were interested in that general rule. They would come barreling up to the surface, check us out with a vigor we haven’t seen very often this season, then dive back down to mum for a moment, before racing back up to see what was going on with the strange, colorful, wiggly things floating at the surface. These sweet calves rolled past both groups and gave us several great passes each, crossing the last item off this week’s humpback whale in-water to-do list. It was the perfect way to end a week.
Add in a rowdy group crashing around M/V Sea Hunter on her mooring one day at lunch; a couple green flash sunsets; plus a waxing Moon shining in the evening sky with brilliant Venus, Jupiter and Mars easily visible (if you click on the image and look closely you can actually see Venus and Jupiter in this photo in the upper left quadrant); and what more can you say?
This week will be remembered for a long, long time.
Buying the unicorn ranch, indeed!
Until next week, keep feeding your unicorns, wherever you keep them,
Capt. Gene & Cat