Awe-inspiring Humpbacks in the Silver Bank

Even though I had hoped to have a longer underwater encounter with the whales today, I have to say we had a good final day despite the conditions. The wind was howling and white caps were everywhere making it hard to spot any blows as they dissipated quickly. Rob captained our tender today, and thankfully he had an eye for spotting whales.

We tooled around for a bit and finally found a mom, baby, escort and challenger. After a short time deciphering their behavior, Rob sent AZ in to see how they would react. It appeared to be the beginning of a Valentine…or whale foreplay between the mom and escort. We all jumped in to watch them until the challenger broke up the group, and they swam away.

Eventually, we spotted some tail slapping in the distance. We were motoring against the wind and waves, so by the time we got there the playful male had stopped his antics. The morning somewhat continued that way, so we opted for a comfort break. As we were hanging out in six foot seas relieving ourselves, I thought to myself, ‘how many people would voluntarily jump into the middle of the Atlantic to float around in bad weather.’ I didn’t feel like the sharpest tool in the shed, despite feeling perfectly safe!

It was time to end our morning cycle when we lost a man overboard. It was no big deal as he grabbed hold of the rope along side the orange pontoons, but as I’ve mentioned the seas were rocky! We returned for lunch (burgers on the grill, portobello mushrooms, grilled zucchini and grilled watermelon), after a slow morning. With the forecast for the winds to increase in the afternoon, Rootie and I were not feeling too enthusiastic about going out again to be drenched by cold spray, but it was the last day.

Our afternoon had only just begun when a small squall headed right for us. We got a quick spattering of rain. Luckily it left as fast as it arrived, and we began searching for whales again. Rob, once again, spotted some blows. We found a male and female swimming around, but not too fast. We opted to join them. They swam off, stopped and circled around to look at us before leaving again. It seemed this was the pattern, though only a few people saw all three times they circled, as Amanda our spotter for the afternoon wanted us to stop. While bobbing in the waves, I wasn’t sure exactly why she wanted us to stop as the faster swimmers were hand signaling the whales were beneath them and not too far away. She quickly mentioned we were too spread out before she chased and hollered at the others to return to the tender. The more I thought about it, it was probably hard for Rob to spot us all in the waves, and it could have been potentially dangerous.

When Drew and Julie heaved themselves back into the tender, Amanda asked, somewhat scolded in her English accent, “I would appreciate it if you looked back every once in a while. That was not behavior of whales that wanted to hang out with us!”

Quick witted Drew quipped, “Really? They kept circling back toward us. I have the video of it!”

To which Amanda responded, “Did you see how far you swam?” See they should be on the Olympic team! On a serious note, for our group they didn’t seem like they swam off as fast as many others, but by the same token the next hour or so supported Amanda’s knowledge.

All safe and sound in the boat, we tooled around some more and found the same two again. We know they were the same two again by the markings on their flukes. Each humpback whale’s fluke has a different marking, like a finger print. In fact, Amanda had seen a few of my photos from when I was on Lowell’s boat and remarked that these were the feisty whales you saw three days ago. Her comment reminded me that Lowell noticed the closer we got to them on the surface, the feistier they got, which I relayed to Rob. Apparently, it was true again as we inched nearer, they reacted with some spunk. The whales began pec slapping, tail lobbing, tail slapping and spy hopping. The spy hopping was great! One whale poked its head very high out of the water and turned 180 degrees while checking us out. It was totally awesome! We could see the under side of its jaw covered in barnacles as it circled around while the other whale was tail slapping behind it. They are so amazing, entertaining, and gentle all at the same time!

While shutters clicked and videos captured their amazing antics as oohs and awes echoed around the tender, another whale joined the mix. Suddenly, the group turned rowdy and sped through the swells. Things change fast…I’m glad we weren’t snorkeling with them then! It was going to be one wet and bumpy ride if we chased them, so we dumped them off to one of the competitors’ nearby tenders, and they raced around.

As soon as we spotted some more blows by the right side of our main boat, our other tender called us over for an in water encounter with a mama and a baby. A competitor had been sharing the whale with Predator, and were returning to their boat, so we were let into the action. This was going to be an exciting way to end our last day! We jumped in twice but both times the mom moved off quickly with her baby in tow, though stopped nearby. The other tended then took a turn and had more luck, enjoying a nice encounter before the mama got spooked again and traveled farther into the nursery of coral heads. Given the time of day, the light was getting low and we had to go in while we could spot the coral heads. I was a little bummed as I had gotten my hopes up for a rare calm encounter this week, but honestly the whales were spectacular!

Of course, we returned to a feast of food…Thanksgiving dinner which is a TRADITION on the boat. We also got to watch a fun video that AZ took of our experience and take a tour of the engine room. If I could spout off some facts about the engine room, I would, but my brain has a difficult time retaining information that I hardly understand! We are preparing for the crossing tomorrow….hopefully it will be smooth! ETB

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