In this issue:
Welcome to Week 7: March 12-18, 2011
Welcome to this edition of the Conscious Breath Adventures Cruise Report. The 2011 Silver Bank humpback whale season moves on with an amazing seventh week. This week we saw familiar whales and new whales multiple times, and it is interesting to observe their range, behaviors and moods. We experienced much of the exciting activity that readers have followed here in our previous Cruise Reports, but even after nearly two months of incredible action, the whales still had a few surprises in store for us…
Sunday, March 13
Our arrival on the Silver Bank was met with sunny skies, calm seas and the clearest water of the season so far, which made for a pleasant ride and excellent conditions for swimming with whales. Our first excursion of the week resulted in a nice interaction with a mother and calf, with the curious calf coming in close to the swimmers to investigate. The clear water made it easy to observe the relationship between mother and calf, and this little whale had the interesting behavior of opening his mouth and extending his tongue to lick mom’s chin. Very unusual and very cute!
Monday, March 14
This morning one of our tenders found the same mother and calf from yesterday. We nicknamed the mother "TW" for a distinct marking on her left pectoral fin that resembles those initials. We decided on "Patches" for the calf due to the mottled and patchy appearance of his skin, highlighted by large colonies of whale lice (Cyamus boopis) which show up as the orangish splotches in the photo above. Patches continued his interesting behavior of licking TW's chin and belly, and occassionally nursing, too. Both were friendly and interactive whales that contendedly shared the entire morning with us.
Around lunchtime the peaceful pair roused themselves for a little excitement when TW unexpectedly initiated a series of massive breaches, the first firing off just in front of the swimmers in the water! While Patches stayed near the swimmers slapping his tail vigorously, TW did six big-air breaches before returning to Patches to gather him up and then cruising off. Talk about a dramatic exit!
Tuesday, March 15
The clear water remained on the Silver Bank today, and our guides found a single young male whale who was sleeping deeply, staying down for thirty minutes for each breath cycle, longer than the average. This whale was noteworthy for the unusual and beautiful white markings on his flank and his nearly all-white fluke, which are very reminiscent of the markings on an orca (killer whale). It is as if this humpback whale made a visit to the orca pod's tailor!
After lunch our group went out and by chance found the same handsome male whale again, except this time he was singing! With the sun shining and good visibility we had an excellent view for the show as this natural performer shook the swimmers’ bones with his powerful song.
Wednesday, March 16
This morning, just as we were loading up the tenders for the morning excursion, a mother and calf surfaced right next to our mother vessel, the M/V Sun Dancer II. While we have frequently mentioned identifying individual whales through the unique markings of their flukes, we instantly recognized the opera-glasses marking on this particular female’s dorsal fin, identifying them as the pair we swam with on Feb. 21! After our previous encounters, we had named the marked female "Aida", after the opera by the same name.We spent this day in their company, having the chance to interact at leisure. We are eager to identify this whale through the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue as she is obviously very comfortable around boats and people, so much so that for two hours this afternoon she was never more than one hundred yards from the M/V Sun Dancer II, and at times was right under that boat with the crew peering down from the upper decks. We wonder if she is a regular visitor to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, where whale watching boats may have made her accostomed to company? Does she have another name up there?
Thursday, March 17
The highlight of the day was the highlight of the season so far! As one of our tenders was drifting while observing a mother and calf, another pair of whales surfaced literally under the boat, surprising everyone aboard when the female spouted a few feet in front of us. What followed was the most incredible interaction ever experienced by Conscious Breath Adventures' Capt. Gene Flipse in his ten seasons on the Silver Bank, as the whale “mugged” the boat and guests for more than ninety minutes!
During this fanastic interlude, as the 25’ tender (above) drifted for more than a mile, the big female rarely wandered more than fifty feet away while all the thrilled guests held onto floating lines attached to the boat, a technique used in Australia during encounters with dwarf minke whales there. As guests floated above and the escort confidently cruised below, the amorous female would slowly swim and roll just below, making powerful contact with her big, beautiful brown eyes. At times the wonderful whale would follow our guides like a loving forty ton puppy (see photo at the foot of this Report). Words simply cannot describe the impact of an experience like this, and some guests were moved to tears, an emotion we freely admit to sharing with them. Watch this video for a hint at what it was like, and watch for future stories, photos and videos of this whale after this season.
There is really no possible way to truly express to readers of the Conscious Breath Adventures Cruise Reports the power of an experience like we had on Thursday. Words, photos, even video simply cannot capture and convey the magnitude of the event. This is a case of a wild and free animal, of its own free choice, out of curiosity and possibly more, actively approaching a drifting boat full of people so that it can interact. For well over an hour and over a mile, the gentle giant approached as closely as possible so that it could share itself with us. Everyone in the water could see her eye as it rolled back and forth as she looked at us. To say we were humbled and awed only scratches the surface, and we are left to guess at what was going on inside the depths of her intelligent mind. We will miss her and wish her well…
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All content and images © 2011 Capt. Gene Flipse, Clare Omodei, Ron Bain & Conscious Breath Adventures. All rights reserved.