Turks & Caicos Aggressor II
11 - 18 March 2017
Air temperature: 70° - 80° F
Water temperature: 77° F
Visibility: 50 – 80 feet
Captain: AMANDA SMITH
2nd Captain: CHRISTY WEAVER
Engineer: ROB SMITH
Video Pro: JESSICA POLK
Chef: CHRISTY BROWN
Stewardess: EVA ROMAN CASTILLO
Marie, Johan & Felicia, Eva, Tomas, Erika, Daniel, Anders & Daniel, Susanne & Lars, Gareth, Göran, Anders, Tor, Mikael and Peter
Sunday - Thursday: Silver Bank, Dominican Republic
A group from Sweden brightened our door this week, travelling with Scuba Travel. Everyone was brought together for the Captain’s safety briefing and was then treated to Chef Christy’s delightful culinary delights as supper was served. Although the weather was inclement in terms of rain, we had very little wind and so a very calm crossing out to the Silver Bank. At midnight we departed Ocean World Marina and by 8am we were in the Bank and enjoying the sights of the humpback whales as they moved around the marine mammal sanctuary.
Once moored up, we shared the logistics of whale watching expeditions with the guests and set them up for our first afternoon. We found the afternoon filled with mothers and calves, but not settled and mostly accompanied by an escort and even a challenger, vying for the mother’s attention. This meant that there was much movement about the Bank, however some of that movement included some great action between adult males as they tried to prove that they were the one with whom the females should mate with. As they moved around they were tail lobbing and slapping pectoral fins to the great delight of our onlookers.
Singers are always captivating and after an early afternoon of searching the Bank we spotted a single whale not too far from our tender. As we drifted, waiting to establish the breath cycle and potential behaviour of the humpback we heard, above the surface and on the tender, the faint tones of whale song. As the light winds pushed us northwest, the song became louder and more distinct. Guide Christy slid into the water and was able to locate the singer by the direction of the song. Everyone moved quietly into the water and lined up by the guide. The song was such that it resonated through the very core of all the snorkelers, in particular the low tones. Even though our single male was deeper in the water, cameras were engaged in video mode to record the song, and some great sounds were captured, from the high pitch to the deep, and this does not include the tones that they sing that are below the level that we are able to hear. Every year the song changes slightly and this lone male, was doing an amazing job of broadcasting the 2017 melody. To the surprise of the guests, he breached whilst they were in the water and so followed a series of breaches and tail slaps until he dropped beneath the surface under our tenders and proceed his lament once more.
On Tuesday we encountered two of the most extraordinary adults. A male and female pair they were at first involved on what we would describe as a valentine, but this soon evolved in to a resting pair. Some sleepers will stay beneath the surface for up to 25 minutes, but these two were napping for just 14 minutes as a time. The most incredible thing was their return to the surface. Most sleepers assume a head down position when they rest, shutting down half their brains, allowing for sufficient consciousness to enable them to breathe. The female in this instance rested with her head directly down and upon her ascent she would slowly float to the surface flukes first, with the tips fist emerging from the water, and then the remainder of the flukes until her entire tail was out and a good part of her peduncle. Her flukes would sink beneath the surface; she would kick her tail leaving a large footprint and then bring her blowhole to the surface to take a breath. The whole morning, we spent with this pair, and we left them with another operator whilst we returned to the mother vessel for some lunch.
As we departed, after a great lunch from Chef Christy, we noticed a pair of adults swimming slowly past the mother ship and once we had boarded the tender, we engaged to follow them. Much to our surprise we discovered that it was the same pair from our morning adventure. The two swam in and around the mooring area slowly, allowing all to enjoy their presence. Another lone male joined the group and immediately energy levels were escalated and the quiet encounter became rowdy. We saw pec slapping, and tail lobbing and interspersed with this was the slow rising from the deep of the female’s flukes. The escort, far more agitated due to the presence of the challenger, stuck close to the female, but his demeanor was far more aggressive than we had previously seen, regularly spy hopping as he surface and blowing bubbles between female and challenger. This display lasted for almost an hour, until the challenger was chased off and our two adults returned to their slumber allowing us to observe them in the water for the remainder of the afternoon; the female still displaying her unusual form of sleep position and ascent to the surface.
A shout goes out to guest Gareth for leaving his camera on the mother vessel!
To top of the day, the two returned again to the boat in the early evening and became our cocktail whales. As the sun set, cocktails flowed and our two, named Ella & Janec, entertained our guests.
The following day broke calmer and with great expectations we set out to se what the Bank had to offer us. Our morning was occupied with a pair of sleepers who snoozed for fourteen minutes, before coming to the surface. On each occasion, one of the pair when settled in their repose, would gently blow a few bubbles – maybe the humpback equivalent of snoring?
Our afternoon proved to be an emotional rollercoaster! We encountered what we believed to be another pair of sleepers. Not so much, it seemed, when we added humans into the mix. Two adults that when presented with our snorkelers began the movements of a valentine, with pectoral fins being brought out, bodies rolling and flukes sashayed. On and on the performance went whilst slowly swimming around the guests.
From there we went straight on to a mother and calf, an invitation from another operator. The two were the most relaxed I have seen this season with the calf regularly sleeping on the surface and the mother spending at least ten minutes per breath cycle at the surface. When she came up for breath, and would commonly move, she remained in position and allowed the drift from the waves to control her movement around the reef.
Our final afternoon was again with mother and calf, but this time the calf was a great deal more active. The mother was calm and relaxed, and even at the surface she barely moved. The calf, when alone with mum, would simply swim the typical semi circle above the female’s rostrum on the surface. As soon as our snorkelers were added to the mix, the youngster started to frisk & frolic and generally show off. We established quite early that the calf was female from all her rolling around. She would spy hop and languidly pec slap; swim out around the guests and then return to her mother to check in before returning to amuse our observers. She kept us swimming until late afternoon when we bid both a fond farewell, as light would create a challenge in returning to the main vessel.
We loaded the boats onto the mother ship and prepared for our journey back to Puerto Plata and Ocean World Marina. A comfortable crossing back with at least an hour and a half crossing the Silver Bank, allowing a last adieu to the humpbacks that permitted an unparalleled experience of their breeding ground behaviours.
As we return to Puerto Plata, we are often able to see the outline of the mountains as soon as 2pm with still 2½ hours yet to go. Once the vessel was docked we had a short while to explore the marina before our cheese & wine party on the sundeck and then off to supper on shore.
An extraordinary week with examples of all the encounters that we expect to see in the Silver Bank shared with a great group of guests. Everyone had fun, during whale and social encounters and we will look forward to sharing a similar charter next year with Scuba Travel from Sweden.
Just two weeks left of the season and we are keen to pack as many encounters into the limited time that we have left. Watch this space next week to see what great encounters we experience.