Turks & Caicos Aggressor II
4 - 11 March 2017
Air temperature: 70° - 80° F
Water temperature: 79° F
Visibility: 50 – 80 feet
Captain: AMANDA SMITH
Engineer: ROB SMITH
Photo Pro: JESSICA POLK
Video Pro: CONOR FERRIN
Chef: CHRISTY BROWN
Stewardess: EVA ROMAN CASTILLO
Charlotte, Eliza, Tiki, Vanessa, Caroline & Duncan, Karen & Alan, Jayne & David, Jan & Bob, Maureen & John, Julie & Ian and Carol & Doug
Sunday - Thursday: Silver Bank, Dominican Republic
Our guests this week are travelling with Charlotte Caffrey of Aqua Firma, operating out of the UK and as expected most of the whale watchers were from England and Scotland, but we also were delighted to welcome Karen from Germany and Carol & Doug from the USA.
Once everyone was settled in, upon boarding at 4pm, we briefed our guests and dined upon a wonderful meal prepared by Chef Christy. Full and relaxed the guests retired for the night aware that when they awoke in the morning we would be close to the Silver Bank and the humpback whales.
Weather was to be a big influence this week with a forecast of high winds, but with a positive mindset we set out on Sunday afternoon to commune with our friends, the humpbacks.
A mother and calf were resting close to the mother vessel, the calf at first swimming little semi circles around the mother’s rostrum as she took a respite below the surface. For a little while we observed this behaviour and after a while she and the calf took the whale equivalent of a perambulation around the Bank. Moving slowly the mother and calf manoeuvred the coral heads. The winds had caused big swells outside the Bank, however the waters within were much calmer – as the mother approached the edge of the Bank she would turn and head back into calmer and shallower waters.
The energy in the seas seemed to diffuse into the water and the vitality of the adult whales. Rowdy groups powered through the Bank, tail lobbing, pec slapping and generally trying to impress the girl. The female at the lead of the group steered the party of males through the seas and the coral heads, whilst they compete in her wake.
We encountered a pair of sleepers close to the main vessel. They were resting mid water for twelve to fourteen minutes before gracefully ascending to the surface and spending several minutes there, exchanging the vast volumes of air that they require to return to the depths and their slumber. This afforded us plenty of time to observe these delightful adults. On one breath cycle, the male as he lay on the surface, rolled over on to his side and slapped his pectoral fin on the surface – not hard, but languidly, permitting the snorkelers a view of the enormity of this appendage. The female was very relaxed and remained very still throughout the encounters, with the exception of her breath cycles, the male, however, would fin gently and when it came to surface, move a little bit further but always turned back to the female. At one point another adult came through and the pair moved away, only to settle down again once the visitor had moved on, and allow us to observe their repose.
We were delighted to have the opportunity to swim with Kanopy this week. This is the mother and calf that we have encountered during the course of the season. The mother is very relaxed and has a tendency to log on the surface for a few minutes during her surface breath cycle. During this time, the calf would lay across Kanopy’s rostrum and roll back and forward bringing pectorals and flukes above the surface to the delight of the onlookers. On one occasion, as the calf surfaced, she gently spy hopped. On another, as she reached the surface she opened her mouth, showing tongue and baleen and expanding her ventral pleats. For the entire encounter, Kanopy continued her restful breath cycles unperturbed by the presence of her adoring snorkelers.
Later that same afternoon, keen to hear the mournful song of the humpback, we launched the hydrophone and drifted to the sound of at least three males singing in the reasonably close vicinity. Beyond that we could hear the chipping and chirping of other humpbacks, male, female and young that were not, at that time, involved in the song. At that precise moment the Bank seemed like a busy place.
For our final day we spent the entire day in the water with three mothers and their calves, but not at the same time. We picked one mother and calf right off the bow of the mother vessel. The mother was sleeping and upon our first approach she moved a little further in to the nursery area and there settled for our first in water encounter with them. The calf was feisty and when only with mother he would simply breath and return to nestle under the female’s chin plate, but add a line of enthusiastic babysitters in to the mix and the result was a playful calf, slapping pectoral fins, flipping flukes and spy hopping, all whilst Mum rested below. When the mother eventually came up for a breath she moved a little distance and as we picked up the guests we realized that we had not one, but three mother and calves immediately around us.
A squall moved through and we found we were following a different mother and calf, who also allowed us into the water to watch them. A much quieter calf, simply completing the breathing cycles and returning to mum. Another set of whales moved into the area, spooking the humpbacks that we were observing and they moved away.
This left us free to reconnect with our first pair of the day, and so we returned to our spirited calf, who we noticed had the outline of what looked like an eye on his pectoral fin, and so we nicknamed him Horus. He continued to play, swimming around the snorkelers as if he were rounding them up. He played and posed and generally seemed to be showing off before us – when the guests were not in the water he appeared very well behaved, until we joined him again. All this time the mother graciously rested below, not concerned with the line of guests floating above. This behaviour continued throughout the morning, only once interrupted when the calf nudged mother to suggest he wanted to be fed. Mother and calf moved away to allow Horus to feed and then settled down to sleep once more. The calf appeared very calm following the feeding, but not for long – the full belly turned into latent energy and the calf spent it by performing in front of us again, until they moved out of the Bank and beyond our reach.
The afternoon brought us another mother and calf. Tis time escorted by a very laid back male. The escort would circle around paying us little heed as we drifted above. Several times he came up to the surface alone and took breath whilst circling back to the mother. At other times the mother would come to the surface and the escort almost did not notice and popped up to join her. The mother remained calm and we spent a delightful afternoon with these three humpbacks.
The week came to an end in this manner, we returned to the mother vessel and loaded the chase boats whilst our guests enjoyed cocktails, sunset and cocktail whales around the yacht.
Our trip back was filled with reflection upon the week passed an excited talk about future trips. Cheese and wine was served at 6pm and accompanied an opportunity for all to be together. Toasts were delivered and supper was enjoyed away from the yacht as a conclusion to an amazing week of humpback whale watching.