At the start of every cruise, before our very first excursion out in our whaleboats to see and swim with the humpback whales on the Silver Bank, I take time to carefully prepare guests for the experience. I explain our goal and the rules, techniques and protocols to use, and what possible behaviors to expect in different situations.
One important instruction guests receive is to avoid getting in front of the whales. But what do you do when the whales come straight at you? The answer: nothing! The swimmers did not get in front of these whales; the whales became curious and turned toward us. In this situation the best action to take is no action at all; let the whales do as they please.
Humpback whales are extremely attuned to their surroundings. They know exactly where they are in the water relative to everything around them, including swimmers. By staying relaxed and still at the surface the mother humpback whale is at ease when her natural curiosity brings her in to investigate. This allows the swimmers to be closer to the whale than they would get if they actively swam toward her.
Guests often ask, “how close can we get to a whale?” That is the wrong question. Swimmers can’t closely approach a whale that does not want to be approached. The better question is “how close will the whales come to us?” In this short video you can see the answer for yourself.
I like how this mother approaches and then pauses, taking a moment to have a good look at the curious beings off-camera in front of her before slowly turning away…