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Turks & Caicos Aggressor II
Air temperature: 78° - 82°
Water temperature: 78° - 79°
Visibility: 30 - 80 feet
Captain: AMANDA SMITH
2nd Captain: TODD EMMONS
Engineer: ROB SMITH
Chef: ALISA KELLY
Driver/Guide: GRANT PATTEN
Driver/Guide: MATT CRAWFORD
Mike, Nancy, Jennifer, Bob, Peggy, Chris, Bruce, Kris, Audrey, Maryann, Avi, George, Julie, Jacqueline, Henriette, Tom, and Gene
Silver Bank, Dominican Republic
Saturday is breezy and clear for guest arrival. With extreme tides due to a new moon, boarding is an adventure. With all guests safely aboard, briefed, and well fed by Chef Ailsa, everyone beds down before an early morning departure to the Silver Banks. Weather reports call for high seas, but the crossing is pleasantly uneventful.
Winds and seas have calmed the next morning by the time we get into the shadow of the banks, and whales can be seen cavorting in the shallows, some quite close to the boat. Anticipation is high as the crew prepares the tenders and serves lunch.
First afternoon of whale observation yields a variety of surface encounters, including a single young male that treats us to a pec slapping extravaganza that leaves his appendages bright pink. He also rolls over on his back and alternately slaps each pec fin for about a minute, giving the guests full view of his belly.
A rowdy group forms up in the distance, and the guests observe from afar.
The most remarkable encounter of the afternoon is with a lone whale travelling quickly. He does a series of tail lobs and earns the nickname Tinkle Tail when he excretes into the water in mid-lob, producing a froth of yellow brown water as his tail lands. There’s something you don’t see every day.
Monday promises to be a scorcher, with limited clouds and light winds, making for fair weather whale watching. Both tenders get rowdy groups today. Predator spends the afternoon with a particularly active group that exhibits all the classic behaviours of suitors vying for the affection of a female who encourages them with pec slapping on her side and back. Predator’s day ends with close encounters in the Nursery, a rowdy group zooming in and amongst the coral heads in every direction. Conqueror has an in water encounter with a pair of sleepers, both full grown adults. Turns out they aren’t quite completely asleep, somewhat vexing the snorkelers by slowly rotating during the entire encounter. After they depart, the snorkelers return to the tender and settle down to track them. The pair proves that they were in the process of awakening by breaching almost completely out of the water, first one whale, then both whales at the same time, a double breach. Awe is inspired. Pictures are taken. Conqueror finishes out the day with a brief in water glimpse of a mother with a very young calf.
Another bright and sunny day on Tuesday. Lots of whales cavorting near the Aggressor, and both tenders get on groups very quickly. Rowdy behaviour is rampant on the Bank, with wild surface encounters all morning. One of the groups had up to eleven whales at a time. Also noteworthy is simultaneous pec slapping, tail lobbing, and breaching, several different whales breaking the surface at the same time. Afternoon provides a fascinating mother, calf, and escort surface encounter, with the world’s worst behaved calf. The animal is quite young, no more than six feet, and determined to travel a different direction than mom wants. He (we’re assuming) breaches repeatedly in one direction and gets up to a hundred yards away from mom, who tail slaps vehemently to discipline him, to no avail. Mom and escort are forced to chase down the calf and herd him the direction they want to go. Baby obstinately breaks underneath mom and then jets to the surface for another breach-fest in the wrong direction. He does the several times, to the amazement of all the witnesses, including those who have worked on the Banks for years. Guests then return to the Aggressor for Pink Minke cocktails and a char-grilled dinner on the sun deck at sunset.
Wednesday is again sunny, but with even less wind than earlier in the week. The seas are so calm as to create well founded concern that the whales will have no motivation to move onto the protected Bank. The morning starts slowly, with very little visible whale action, and that on the horizon. Things pick up mid morning for both tenders, which follow rapidly travelling mother/ calf/ escort groups that show no sign of settling. One set of travellers leads Predator to the edge of the Bank, where another group makes its presence known. Predator bids farewell to the fast movers and sits with the stationary mother/ calf/ escort as they cavort around a shallow coral head. The group is able to get in and spend quality time with an amenable mother and calf, despite the male’s impatience.
Wednesday afternoon, Predator has a mother and calf encounter with a slowly moving pair that, without the presence of an escort, seems quite calm. The swimmers are able to swim twice with them. Once they are back on the boat, the calf treats them to a full breach, tail out of the water, with half twist. Even the Russian judge gives perfect scores. Conqueror gets a chance to swim twice with a mother and calf who come quite closer to them, giving photographers a good view of mom’s pectoral fin as she takes the swimmers’ measure. Chef finishes an outstanding day of whale watching with a truly sumptuous meal of ribeye roast with Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Plates return to the kitchen clean.
Good weather luck holds on Thursday with full sun and light breezes. Conqueror spends the first part of the day working skittish encounters before finding a mother calf escort group that is moving slowly through the shallow coral heads of the northwestern part of the Bank. They move after each breath cycle, but never very far. They gradually grow more enamoured of the tender boat and begin seeking it out during their surface intervals. The tender captain, normally tasked with finding whales, is now in the enviable position of having whales who want to find him. It is, in a word, outstanding. Every three minutes or so, mother, calf, and escort slide under the tender, surface right next to it, and proceed to treat the guests to a comprehensive show of whale behaviours. The adults demonstrate pec slapping and tail slapping, and the calf takes to it with vigour, at one point slapping quickly and forcefully over twenty times in a row, with a
Gasping series of well earned breaths after the effort. The calf also begins each surface encounter with a breach or two. The escort, though never happy with all of this interaction, tolerates it with nothing more than the occasional bubble blow. He even takes a turn encouraging the calf to tail slap. The whales come close enough to the stationary tender, engine off, that one of the guests gets brushed by the mother’s tail as she passes under the boat, and this as he is merely hanging his torso over the side to take pictures. The whales stay around the tender until it is finally past time to return to the Aggressor for lunch.
After a quick lunch, both boats are treated to a visit by a pod of about 30 Atlantic spotted dolphins. One of the tenders moves on to have an afternoon frolic with a receptive mother and calf, and the other tender decides to stay with the dolphins, encouraging them to ride the bow and stern wake of the boat. The dolphins find this good fun for almost an hour. The sun dips towards the horizon and both boats head home to finish up a week of cetaceans full of some truly memorable moments, capped by a smooth crossing on Friday that yields some excellent, close proximity sightings as Aggressor leaves the Bank.