SILVER BANKS 2016 HUMPBACK WHALE
This year's Silver Banks humpback whale
adventure was off the chart! There was definitely no
shortage of whales and some of the encounters that we enjoyed
were the ones you wait a lifetime for :)
On a good week at Silver Banks you can expect
to see quite a few different behaviors. Our week started
with a group of rowdy males competing for the affection of
the available females. You can't get in the water with
rowdies because it would be too dangerous but its
a fascinating spectacle as they breach, tail slap, lunge at
each other and blow long intimidating
Next up were the sleeping giants. A great way
to get close to humpback whales is to slip into the water
when they're resting. During their afternoon naps, humpies
surface to breath every 18-20 minutes. When they settle back
down they don't go very far so its easy to catch up with
them and then watch them laying motionless on the shallow
sandy seafloor. As long as you're quiet, you can fin along
next to them when they finally surface for their next
breath. Its a wonderfully peaceful way to spend lots of time
in their presence.
While half our group was communing with
the sleeping whales, our other chase boat stumbled upon a
friendly mother with an extremely large and boisterous calf.
While momma rested, the calf (that we nicknamed Thumper)
swam excitedly up to our snorkellers and spent over an hour
spy-hopping, breaching and slapping its fins, as if to say,
look what I just learned to do!
Every seven minutes or so, momma rose to
breathe right between the enthralled snorkelers. She never
once showed any concern, so - following its mother's lead -
her calf didn't show any fear either. A great example of how
trusting some cetaceans can be when they are not feeling
The next morning we chased more rowdy males
and slipped in with another pair of sleepers. Interestingly, humpbacks
always snooze in twos.
The week was going rather well. No one would
have complained if it had continued that way until it was
time to head home but on our third day in the water,
something extraordinary happened...
Once or twice each season, a group of lucky
divers gets treated to a valentine. A valentine is when a
mature female humpback actually seeks out contact with
humans. No one is exactly sure why they do this. Likely, the
whale has either just mated or she is about to and her
hormones are running wild.
The result is an unforgettable encounter
where she swims around and around the boat (or the snorkellers) at
very close quarters. Her pupils dilate and she rolls around
at the surface with her pectoral fins outstretched.
Sometimes her euphoria can make her clumsy
and unintentionally dangerous but on this occasion, her and
her male escort were extremely gentle; lifting their fins
over nearby snorkellers and avoiding any forceful physical
Periodically, both whales rose to the surface
and pushed their noses skyward. This is called spy-hopping
even though their eyes do not necessarily break the surface.
Humpbacks have sensitive hairs on their chins that are able
to smell - or perhaps taste - the air around them. Maybe the
whales were 'high' on pheromones and lost in the sensory
overload of the moment. We'll probably never know what the
whales were really feeling but the minds of the snorkellers
were much easier to read. Everyone in the water was utterly
The valentine lasted most of the afternoon.
During that time the whales never left our side for more
than a minute or two. Eventually it was our boat captain who
called off the encounter fearing that we would not make it
back to our liveaboard before sunset. We had drifted a long
way from the anchorage over the course of the afternoon and
there were treacherous shallow reefs between us and the
mother-ship that would become increasingly hard to navigate
as darkness fell.
On the way back to the Aggressor we relived
the encounter and that night we celebrated our good fortune.
Before returning to the mainland, we had one
more mind warping encounter. After a long and largely
fruitless morning of searching for mothers with calves to
interact with, we came across a singer. This is a male
humpback that rests head down in the water, broadcasting
whale song for miles around. His voice was so strong that we
could hear his haunting melody even above the water. Once we
dropped into the ocean, his baritone notes resonated through
our whole bodies. It was as unforgettable and it was awe
Long before any of us were ready, we arrived
back in the real world. Stepping off the ship, I felt my
connection to the whales weakening but as I write this trip
report a month later, the memories and emotions are quickly
flooding back. It really was an unforgettable week.
I don't know if we will ever be able to top
that journey among humpback whales but I'm looking forward
to trying. Join us on our next expedition to Silver Banks in
Silver Banks Humpback
Whale Diving Expedition