Cruise Report, Week 8: Mar. 16-22 & Week 9: Mar. 23-29, 2019
March 30, 2019
Greetings and welcome back to our combined Cruise Reports for Weeks 8 & 9 of our 2019 Silver Bank humpback whale season. There is a phenomenon we call “whale-time” out here, the sensation that time spent close to the whales seems to move very quickly, and we are firmly under its power. It is hard to believe that we are now reporting on some of the final few weeks of a simply remarkable, outstanding season. As with prior Reports, please be sure to click the images for a larger view (all photos by Ben Vieyra/Conscious Breath Adventures)
So much happens out here on a daily and weekly basis that it is sometimes hard to keep track of it all but the highlights are always unforgettable. Here are a few from these two cruises.
But first an update to our ongoing mystery, the pregnant female from Weeks 5 & 6. We have been keeping a close eye out, looking carefully at every mother with calf we see, but she has not been sighted again since the afternoon of March 7. By now she must have had her calf, and we hope they are both doing well, but she seems to have moved to a different area since then. We will keep watching for her on our next, last, week…
For any of our guests one of the peak experiences possible is the opportunity to swim with a singing male humpback whale, as we have described in the past. We have been on a roll with these supersized performers lately and early on Week 8 we located a single male whale out on the Bank that gave us one of the best performances of the year so far. What made this one so memorable was the tendency of the singer to stay close by the swimmers when he surfaced and to move very little before carrying on with his song. In fact the male acted very much like a giant calf, rising and circling slowly during his breath cycle before settling right back down almost where he had started from. Singers usually make significant moves during their breath cycles but this guy made it very easy for the swimmers to stay with him for a continuous 45 minutes at a time, three full breath cycles for each group of swimmers. Combined with the calm seas it was our best swim with a singer for the entire season to date.
On another occasion all our guests shared an extended interaction with a mother humpback, her calf and escort as the mother and calf floated asleep on the surface, a behavior called “logging”, as the whales float like logs in the water. Logging whales are always a fantastic experience because the whales are just floating there right in front of us, mom literally as big as a bus. The view is exceptional and when an adult humpback takes blows and takes a deep breath from twenty feet away the whoosh of her breath gives you goose bumps. If you were walking in the woods and heard a sound like that you’d be looking for the tallest tree! Out here the sound is followed by the sound of rain as the water from the spray showers down around. It is an entirely different part of an in-water interaction. Very few people on the planet are ever able to watch a whale from underwater as it breaths above, we and our guests are some of those fortunate few.
We have also noticed these last couple weeks that the rowdy groups of competitive males are changing in size and scope. Where before we were seeing a few groups of 3-6 rowdies, now we are sometimes seeing multiple rowdy groups numbering ten or more whales. The level of intensity seems higher, too, as the number of opportunities for the males diminish as available females successfully mate, become pregnant and depart, changing the ratio of males to available females. There is a lot of physical contact with powerful lunges and shoving, including a combatant trying to prevent his opponent from getting a good breath. If a fighting male can’t catch his breath then he will be at a distinct disadvantage and may have to withdraw from the competition. In the process the barnacles under the chin of the top whale can rub raw the tubercles (the knobby protuberances on the rostrum) and skin of the lower whale (take a close look in the photos). Tracking a pack of rowdies is one of the most exciting things we can do without getting in the water because the fast and furious action can go on for an hour or more at a time.
On into Week 9 one of our top interactions was on a windy, sunny morning when we located a male and female pair of adult humpbacks resting in the shelter of the shallow reef near the mooring. What made this pair special was the unusual tendency of the female to rest vertically in the water, with her nose near the sea floor and her tail just below the surface. For a 35’ whale in 45’ of water, there wasn’t much extra room on either end! Both would rise close to the swimmers in their breath cycles and with the escort always close at her side he gave all the swimmers a very close look each time he came up (see header image). All of our guests swam with the pair until we were all tired, cold and hungry, a very good way to be after a morning on the water.
The excellent topside action continued as well, and the week had a few exciting bouts of breaching, both calves and adults. Some of the displays happened within a few hundred feet of our whale boats causing our most enthusiastic guests (and me, too, I confess) to whoop and holler. It is impossible to see and hear a breach so close (they sound like a waterfall followed by a thunderclap) and not have a smile plastered on your face.
And finally our week with the whales ended on another high note, literally, when on the last afternoon we once again found a very accepting singer in flat calm water singing his heart out. Wind and seas were so flat calm and quiet that the whale boats could float in silence, engines off, the song easily heard from above the water, booming from in the water, barely drifting as we made another top-quality digital recording while our swimmers enjoyed. At one point late in the event he surfaced just yards away, singing as he blew, taking one of those big whooshing breaths before settling back down. And this is where we left him with the sun getting low as we ended another great week with the humpback whales on the Silver Bank.
We look forward to bringing you our next and final report of the 2019 season next week. See you then!