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Turks & Caicos Aggressor II
7 – 14 March 2015
Air temperature: 78° - 82°
Water temperature: 78° - 79°
Visibility: 20 - 40 feet
Captain: AMANDA SMITH
2nd Captain: LOWEL OROURKE
Engineer: ROB SMITH
Video Pro: KELLY CURRINGTON
Chef: SHEA MARKWELL
Stewardess: EVA ROMAN CASTILLO
Jo & Paul, Rob & Christine, Don & Michele, Alli & Linda, Dan & Karen, Hal & Karen, Will & Joyce, Terry, Tony, Norbert & Sunny.
Silver Bank, Dominican Republic
A pleasant afternoon greeted our joining guests on Saturday afternoon, which meant a very comfortable crossing out to the Silver Bank in the early hours of Sunday morning. Although a breezy week was forecast for us, everyone onboard was excited about our potential whale watching encounters for the charter and was graced with some great action before we had reached the mooring.
It was a week for rowdy groups, as we discovered, with a good number of adults cruising the bank. That is not to say that there were no mothers with their calves, but in many instances there would be an accompanying male escort.
Rowdy groups are always a high energy, fun encounter, with frequent changes of direction, shoving and barging. A female would lead the group of males and bide her time whilst behind and around her the males tried to prove their worth, strength and prowess by competing against each other until there was only one! The females will often slap their pectoral fins in a slow and languid way as they swim along. The males were blowing bubbles to disguise the female from their competitors whilst lobbing their flukes. Often the males showed signs of their tussles with each other with tubercles rubbed raw and cuts and scrapes down their backs. Sudden surges of water would reveal a variety of cetacean body parts as the males skirmished beneath the waves. We were able to get some great photographs as this occurred, up close and personal, all around us, and so we were reasonably prepared when one of the males decided to breach close to the tender.
Also delighting us with their breaching activities were the humpback calves. Whether is was the choppy conditions that excited the young or instruction from their mothers we experienced several of these wonderful juvenile mammals bursting from the surface of the water, in all manner of ways. Some had clearly mastered the manoeuvre and were able to clear nearly their entire bodies from the water, others were not so confident, but repeating the activity vigorously saw a great deal of improvement. One such calf breached consistently for an hour and travelled some distance across the bank whilst we looked on and enjoyed the display. Similarly, the calf tail slapping persistently with little pause even for breath, captivated the onlookers, with the calf clearly using huge amounts of energy. Many mothers were accompanied by an escort and an occasionally by a challenger as well.
When the mother started to settle, the calf would venture to the surface, allowing mother to rest in the water column, completing a tight horseshoe pattern above her rostrum. At this point we were indulged with spending a short while in the water with mother and calf, as this behaviour continued.
In a similar vein, we were also granted entrance to the water with a sleeping female. For twenty-two minutes, this resting cetacean, remained beneath the surface, asleep in every sense, with limbs slack and eyes closed. Her companion, a not so calm male would remain with her for seven or eight minutes and then surface, returning to her as she slept, undisturbed by his activity.
The most extra-ordinary encounter of the week occurred on Thursday morning when we moved in to follow what we thought to be a rowdy group of males. As we approached the group, the leading lady, swam directly toward the vessel and stopped underneath moving up and down, pushing the tender out of the water, very slightly, and backwards and forward. Here she stayed for up to ten minutes at a time as the five males that were accompanying her swam around the boat, blew bubbles, tail lobbed, pec slapped and occasionally breached all apparently to get her attention, but it was the tender that she was more interested in.
She very accurately blew all the air from her lungs on a number of occasions directly below the onlookers, covering them in water and whale breath. She would turn and lay on her back, with her pectoral fins out wide beside her and then turn again to look directly up into the faces of the excited guests.
The week ended with continuing bouncing babies and even as we departed the Bank we received farewells from mothers, calves and adults alike.
Check back with us next week to see how our season develops as we enter the last three weeks of our whale watching adventures