Another Day in Whale Country…the Silver Bank

February 19, 2014

Generally I mention our lunches and dinners in my posts. But I have failed to mention breakfast. There is a continental style option set out on the counter every day at 6:30 a.m. which includes a variety of cereals, breads, jams, and fruits from which to choose. If that’s not enough, yogurt is always available, and Chef Dave cooks eggs and bacon to order! His scrambled eggs were excellent.

IMG_3125 breakfast

As I mentioned in a previous post, with our group of 17 split into two, we alternate which chase boat we go out on each day. This is for two reasons. First, Predator always goes out first and second, we get to experience different whale spotters and drivers. Today we were with Lowell and Carlos.

I think we are a little bit spoiled when we see two whales breach in sync, twice, right by the boat; a baby breaching time and time again; and a mama and baby breaching simultaneously in the distance, and we consider our whale encounters for the day as not great. The “rough” day could have also had something to do with the strong winds and high seas!

As we are traveling around in the tender, I don’t feel like I’m in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean because generally our boats are in sight, and we have to dodge corals, so it sort of makes me feel like we are near land. But the reality is, we are 125 miles off shore and there is no land in sight, so the swells can get quite large. While I don’t know for sure and they were probably smaller, it felt like six foot seas this morning as storms brewed all around us. Rain fell on the horizon and was coming toward us, but somehow we managed to dodge it. Not that it mattered, the spray of the waves coming in from all sides of the boat easily made up for it as we got soaked from head to toe!

Thankfully, the sun started poking through the clouds and the winds started dying down in the late morning so we weren’t too cold. As I mentioned above, we saw some surface action today. We followed adult whales for a while, and decided we’d rather find a mom and calf that were settled so we could swim. Having said that, I think I would have let others swim to the whales to make sure they stayed put before I jumped into mix. High seas and cold wind didn’t sound like the most tasty recipe for the early morning, especially if the whales were just going to move!

With the exception of watching a small calf breach a little bit, the highlight of the morning outing for the first two hours may have been the rainbows that were coming and going. We eventually asked Carlos and Lowell to drive us back toward the boat as we were a good distance away and had to travel back into the winds and waves which was going to be a slow chore. Not to mention, it’s difficult to spot the whales and the blows in these conditions…as the blows disperse quickly among white caps! As we made our way back, however, it was not difficult to see two adults breach beside the boat! Each twice. It was so fun to see so closely. They started following us, which was exciting, and teased us with a lazy tail wag once in while.

Once we neared the boats and were in the protected area, we found a few whales that weren’t moving too quickly, so we tried for a fly by. Basically everyone jumps in at once as the whales swim by. They ditched us before we got in. Oh well…we just returned for an early pasta with bolognese sauce lunch and lounged on the upper deck before heading into the trenches this afternoon.

Blessed with better weather, we enjoyed a lot of excitement with a baby breaching over and over again. It seemed like its mom wanted to settled down and their breathing cycles slowed. The baby who was consistently on the surface started diving for three minutes at a time…a good sign for us. The mama and the escort went from a five minute breathing cycle to resting below for eleven or more minutes. The breathing cycles and weather conditions were conducive to snorkeling. Lowell, our spotter, slid into the water in search of the whales, but unfortunately he was never able to raise his arm overhead and point down to the water with his hand like he had just finished a hook shot. This would have indicated he found a sleeping whale. Instead we were waving him back as we saw them swim off…DARN!

That chance ended up being the last whale action of the day, but we managed some action of our own. We ran aground after we lost steering in the tender! At low tide, the coral heads get quite close to the surface, and the waves pushed us right into the reef! No damage was done to the boat, the coral head was still there, and no one fell in, so it was just a small added adventure. After filling the steering column with fluid, we regained control of the tender and decided to check out the wreck near our mooring as the whales weren’t cooperating.

The freighter Polyxeni sunk in the Silver Bank thirty plus years ago after being chased by the coast guard under the suspicion it was running drugs. The rusted remains tilted sideways in the coral reef were spattered with white bird droppings. It must just be a resting spot for the birds, as we hadn’t seen any until we pulled up close and two frigate birds flew away. Without many fish around, I can’t imagine it is much of a feeding ground for the birds either! But what do I know…there was a lot of white. It would have been cool to dive around the coral and the wreck, but no one is allowed on the wreck without a permit, except of course right after its mishap. Rumor has it, the ship was raided and stripped of all its belongings except a jar of hot sauce and its papers in three days!

There were no blows to speak of for at least an hour, so we called it a day. Showers and cocktail hour were waiting for us. In the meantime, the other boat found a singer. They could feel the vibrations of the whale’s song through the tender and could hear the song on the surface when they slipped in the water. Generally speaking we could free dive down to about ten feet anytime we wanted to hear the whales singing, this event was just up close and personal! Our captain, Amanda, recorded the singing and played it for us on the boat.

While the whales make a variety of noises, each year the humpbacks sing a specific song too. They alter it only slightly the following year, and within seven years the whole song has changed. The song today sounded like the cross between a parrot, a cow, a creaking door, and a dripping faucet…to name a few of the sounds. At times, it sounded like a child practicing a violin. I never would have thought there would be so many noises. I really expected to hear a constant sound. I’m glad I got to hear it…really cool!

Fishing boats near our mooring
Fishing boats near our mooring

During dinner of a NY strip, grilled cabbage, beans and banana bread pudding, we enjoyed a slide show from Rob’s underwater diving experiences in the Turks and Caicos. While it was an interesting day, here’s to hoping for smoother sailing tomorrow, so we can see more whales! ETB

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