After leaving Dominica and our fantastic experiences swimming and observing Sperm whales we made the 1000 mile journey northward via Puerto Rico to join the team at Aquatic Adventures in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Since it is not easy traveling in the Caribbean our journey took several days travel but we finally climbed on board the Turks & Caicos Explorer, our live-aboard dive boat home for the next 6 days and headed out 80 miles to the NNE finding the Silver Bank. These grounds were made famous in colonial times when Spanish treasure ships came to grief on poorly charted coral reefs and deposited lots of treasure on the shallow banks in storms. This was a return trip for us having had the experience in March 2012 and been so moved by it that we vowed to come back for more. We were not disappointed.
Every year more than 2,000 humpback whales migrate to Hawaiian waters. A population of up to 600 inhabits the waters off Big Island’s western coast.Humpbacks come to Hawaii for two reasons: to mate and to give birth. Most Hawaiian humpbacks travel 3000 miles from Alaska where they spend their summers, but whales in Hawaii have been recorded traveling all over the Pacific, coming from as far away as South America and Russia.
Adults can attain lengths of up to 60 feet, but most humpbacks max out at around 45 feet. At birth the calf weighs only about a ton (mom weighs up to 50 tons), but it comes out already measuring nearly 15 feet in length. After watching diligently from the shore for more than week from several locations and witnessing the telltale signs of mother and calf pairs interacting from time to time we finally got the chance to get out on a boat and see these magnificent creatures close up. This youngster was barely a week or two old and was learning to breathe and dive along side its mother. It treated us to a couple of “baby breaches”.
The fall shorebird southerly migration is winding down but there is still much to see if you look carefully on the barrier beaches off Chatham. We have had family & friends visiting for the past week and have had a chance to explore some of our favorite places.
These humpbacks are so incredible. Here are a few images that we recorded that show these whales from some different points of view. I am afraid we just can not get enough of these beautiful creatures.
We are finally managing to secure some quality time offshore. Our friends the Gulf of Maine humpback whales are feeding voraciously in the waters off Chatham. It is also now wonderful to see mother and calf combinations with young whales that were likely born this year or last on the Silver Bank off the Dominican Republic.
The wildlife in this temperate rainforest is distinctive and abundant. Because most of Haida Gwaii was left uncovered in the last North American glaciation much of the flora and fauna on the islands is unique.
We were very fortunate to get the call from our friends Scott Jensen and Courtney Lipson to travel with them on the 68 foot ketch Island Odyssey to explore the wild southern islands of Haida Gwaii off of the British Columbia coast and near the Alaska border. The attraction is a remote set of unspoiled wilderness made up of the finest temperate rainforest anywhere on planet earth. In addition this is the ancestral homeland to the Haida Nation who have lived there for more than 8000 years and whose people are regarded as the most prolific artists of the indigenous North American cultures that lived here before European contact. In recent years there long traditions of carving poles to tell stories and to commemorate events has undergone a resurgence and many new pieces are appearing all over the islands and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest. An additional reason for exploring this coast was to visit the ancient and now quiet ancestral villages that flourished in the mid 19th century but are now uninhabited except my “watchmen” who have Haida heritage and live on site in small cabins during the summer season to allow visitors like us to come ashore and appreciate the beautiful, fragile and valuable ruins. This is a pristine park which is now protected for all time.
Swimming with whales is the thrill of a lifetime. The Silver Bank is truly one of the few places you can do this anywhere in the world. I bet just watching someone who is swimming with a 40 foot 20 ton mother humpback whale and her new calf will give YOU goosebumps! Check out these two clips shot by fellow traveler Mike Morelli from Seattle. Might take a minute to load.
The Silver Bank is a very special place where one can observe the interaction between mothers and new born calves in an environment that the whales consider safe and are therefore relatively relaxed. No predators present. Tom Conlin and his team have so much time with these animals that they are able to “read” behavior of mother calf pairs and get observers in the midst of animals that are comfortable and often curious. Technique in approaching these interactions quietly is very key in being able to witness whale behavior at close range. These whales are so big you have to adjust your “comfort” zone to accept close encounters of these creatures without freaking out. It is an unforgettable experience to decode the mystery of what happens to a whale once they blow and slip below the surface. Truly magical!
Here are some more images:
This expedition brought us to the warm Caribbean waters off the north coast of the island of Hispaniola to the gentle nursery waters of the Silver Bank. Named for Spanish galleon treasures lost in 16th and 17th century storms – this area was long before New World colonial times, the winter destination of 6 – 8,000 North Atlantic Humpback whales who arrive each year to birth and nurture new calf’s and to cavort and mate to perpetuate the species. We worked with Humpback whale zen master Tom Conlin and his team, who have been active for Humpback conservation for more than 22 years and make a business out of showing photographers and thrill seekers, like us, this unique look into the natural world..