Out on the Silver Bank we see and swim with humpback whales on a daily basis, it is what our guests come for. And with thousands of whales in the area during the season, it is the right place to do it! Many whales means many opportunities to see the whales and learn about their behaviors in person.
For our guests to successfully swim with a whale requires that the whales not be swimming at all. That typically means they are resting. So we won’t disturb them, our guides carefully observe before we make any approaches and use low impact techniques. This helps lead our guests into an appropriate position. After that it is up it the whales to set the distance, duration and tempo of the interaction. This gives outstanding results.
Often the whales are resting farther down in the water column. Sometimes they will be at or near the surface, like this mother and calf. The mother was only a couple meters below and a few meters away; she was close and comfortable. Her little girl was energetic, curious and playful, all the ingredients for an exciting interaction.
During this swim the calf is twisting and rolling around and giving a lot of strong direct eye contact. It is looking right you! Humpback whales have eyes that are placed well back on either side of their head but it is possible for them to see things with both eyes at once. To do that the object needs to be located in an arc from just below directly in front through directly below. When a humpback whale rolls on its side and shows you its underside and ventral pleats, it is because it is curious. It wants to look at you with both eyes. It rolls over to put you “below” in optimum viewing position.
This calf does something else unusual, too. Typically when we are with a mother and calf, the calf will stay between the mother and swimmers. We make every effort to keep it that way. But the calfs don’t know this so sometimes an especially feisty baby will circle around the swimmers. That is what this calf did. Half way through the clip the calf sneaks away from mom out of frame to the right. The camera follows all the way around to the right before both the little girl and camera circle back to mom from the left. And the whole time the mother is motionless, resting just right there.
And that is another one of the amazing things about humpback whales. How many other wild animal mothers are content to let their little ones explore their environment and interact with human beings? Don’t try this with a grizzly bear cub! Even though your guides ensure we are being well-behaved visitors, which is essential, it is still humbling that the humpbacks are so peacefully accepting of us.
How do I know it is a little girl? All whales have a genital slit where reproductive and excretory organs are located. But females also have two smaller slits located to either side where the mammary glands are located. You can see hers clearly at the 01:48 point in the video.
Remember, this clip was filmed using a wide angle “fisheye” lens which gives the sea surface the curved appearance. But it also means that objects (or whales) being filmed are much closer than they appear. It is an amazing view, no matter how you look at it!