Sperm Whale Heaven

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Wow! Off the water and now cooling our heels with friends in San Juan, PR after 9 amazing days in an around the waters off of Dominica. Our objective was to return once more to work with our contacts at the Dominica Sperm Whale Project. Under special permits we were allowed to get in the water and swim with the population of sperm whales that hunt in local waters there. Using photo ID s of the whale flukes we were able to visually identify more than 15 whales during our time there working with local researcher Pernell Francis. Some whales we observed multiple times.

It is truly difficult to describe how moved we were to swim alongside these incredible gentle giants with the largest brain in the animal kingdom. But hopefully these images will help to transmit the emotion. Rather than spoil the moment with lots of technical explanation about what is going on we thought we’d just let the images speak for themselves. But trust us in this…it was absolutely magical.

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Read more.. Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Dominica Journal: The Sperm Whale Project

Our main objective in coming to Dominica was to observe sperm whales in the wild with the benefit and guidance of local researchers and guides. Because of its is unique Caribbean geography (and bathymetry) Dominica is one of the few places on Planet Earth that you can observe sperm whales in an ocean environment near land and in relatively protected and calm warm water. For much of the last decade researchers under the direction of Shane Gero and Hal Whitehead have been studying a resident population of about 20 family groups that live in the region. Sperm whales are highly social animals and, like elephants, form large family units made up principally of female family members with juveniles. Social units are required to share in the protection and rearing of young sperm whales as adult whales must dive to great depths to feed and youngsters cannot dive deeply for a number of years after birth. They are often accompanied by relatives who act as “care providers” at the surface while mom dives for food. Principally squid in the dark ocean depths.

We were very fortunate to acquire permits from the government of Dominica and get to sea with ground operators who have been part of The Sperm Whale Project team for a number of years. Most of the individual whales we observed were known to our guides and even had names and a family lineage which we learned. Male sperm whales come of age around their tenth birthday and at that point leave the family unit to join bachelor herds who travel the ocean mostly in northern climes nearer to the ice to feed and generally “learn” to be the man. Unlikely that male whales return to their home path in later life but studies of this are as yet unknown. Among the beautiful interactions we experienced we did connect with a near mature young male of 8 or 9 years who provided a spirited encounter (now posted) on YouTube on our channel – aleutiandream.

Whale Tale: Face to Face with Earth’s largest Predator.

Lady Atwood and her two daughters

A young male uses echolocation to determine JJK's intent

Objects appear farther away than they actually are. (Shot with Nikon D300 and Tokina 10-17 fisheye lens)

Massive male Sperm whale nomad who showed up one day. Estimated to be 50 ft in length and about 40 tons. He was double the size of any of the females we saw.

Mysterious oceanic shark. Possible Silky Shark however rarely seen in these waters.

A school of Short finned Pilot Whales!

Short finned Pilot Whales at the surface. They harass sperm whales and once they showed up the sperm whales were gone for the day.

The view from below. Sperm whales engage their binocular vision by turning belly up to engae both eyes on activity (like us) at the surface that seems unfamiliar

Pam takes it all in

The Team for our adventure

Mother with very young calf. < 1year

Females checking us out

Young male stops on the surface to further investigate the curious humans

Sperm Whales are identified by the distinctive markings on their flukes. These are always caused by interactions with orca, pilot whales or in some cases cookie cutter sharks. researchers use these fluke shots to keep track of who's who.

Rare glimpse of Pygmy killer whales

School of 40 - 50 Pygmy Killer whales appeared and caused the Sperms to disappear for 24 hours.

Up close and personal at the surface. Amazing!

Sperm whale "spyhop" to check us out.

Sperm whales stay on the surface for about 12 - 18 minutes then dive to the depths to feed for about 45 minutes. We spent a lot of time searching for spouts and listening for echolocating sounds at the bottome using hydo-phones

Short finned Pilot Whale (likely a male).

Read more.. Monday, March 25th, 2013

Dominica Journal: Rainforest Paradise

Pam and our guide Dr. Birdie

Our journey to Dominica, the Nature Island proved to be everything and more than we could have hoped for.  The island is, in jest, referred to “as the one island in the Caribbean that Christopher Columbus would recognize if he returned to the area”. It is a beautiful forested mountainous paradise that rockets in several peaks out of the sea to as high as 4700 feet on one peak. Because of its severe geography and the lack of a proper protected port it has been relatively left alone over the centuries and escaped significant development. It features beautiful waterfalls and remote canyons for hikers, trekkers and birders among others. It is a destination for many who enjoy the active sport called “Canyoning” . We saved this experience for another trip but did manage to spend two full days exploring the forests and coast for their endemic birds. Absolutely beautiful. Of note several sites on the island were used as locations for the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean a few years ago. For our purposes the main attraction was the ability to gain permits from the government of Dominica to join a locally based research team who is studying a local population of Sperm Whales. These family groups are in the general area for almost the entire year to raise their young and feed in the warm deep waters which are rich with “arrowhead squid”.

Red - Necked Parrot (Critically Endangered and endemic to Dominica)

Antillean Crested Hummingbird

Green-throated Carib

Purple Throated Hummingbird

Blue-headed Hummingbird

Lesser Antillean Peewee

Dominica Southern coast

Read more.. Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Dominica Expedition

In the final stages of packing for another expedition into warm waters in search of the largest predator on planet earth – the Sperm Whale. The stuff of legends especially well known to the New England whalers of our Cape Cod and the Islands region, these incredible creatures boast the largest brain on the planet too. If you watch the attached link you will learn a bit about where we are going and why. Dominica, in the Antilles, is one of the preferred locations for Atlantic sperm whales to mate and rear their young. We are fortunate to be linking up with a Canadian research team that will give us an up close an personal experience. We are praying for fair weather.

Underwater camera gear checked out and adrenaline is starting to flow. With only one flight a day into the island we are over-nighting in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico before we head south.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0I_sythtn0

Will be checking out our new GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition cameras amongst the other gear we usually take. Dominica has some unique endemic birds as well and we will spend a few days hiking its mountainous forests.

Packing Details at T-12hrs

Female Sperm Whale

Read more.. Sunday, February 24th, 2013