2009 March 12th Lots of whales breaching, tail-lobbing, spy-hopping, seven new flukes but no song Print E-mail
Written by Andrew Stevenson   
A break in the weather gives us a perfect day as we set off at 9.30 am on Sea Slipper with Michael Smith, Camilla Stringer, Carol Dixon, Kelly Winfield and myself. The air quality is fantastic, we can see forever and although there are large ocean swells there are no white caps, wind being variable to 5 knots. At Sally Tuckers we find strong upwellings and plenty of foam on the surface where the upwellings are. Dropped hydrophone over but no whales. Radio call from a fishing boat to say that there are two whales on the northeast side of Challenger. As we set off we pick up two whales on the ledge north of Sally Tuckers but the two whales seem to change course and head for Challenger so we parallel  them as they move along at 5-6 knots. Approaching Challenger Bank we see multiple spouts, and surface activity including what looks like the pecs of a young calf. Again, could this be the young calf born here? Soon I am in the water with four whales who turn out to be juveniles, I guess two years old. They move in tight formation never more than a pectoral fin away from each other. One of them is a flirt and exposes her underside to me, revealing she is a female. Curious, they swim by very close and multiple times, always tightly packed together. 

 

 

 

 It ends up being a very long day in and out of the water and in a wetsuit from shortly after twelve to six, the last time I am out of the water after filming three adult whales. Amazingly all the whales I have managed to film in the water today have been female. We know from studies in the past that up north when they feed, the ratio of males to females is one-to-one. Down south in the Caribbean where they breed and give birth, the ratio of males to females is 4-to-1. So are the too young and too old to breed females hanging out in the middle of the Atlantic or perhaps near to the numerous sea mounts, of which Bermuda is the only one to rise to the surface? We know that the number of North Atlantic humpback whales wintering in the Caribbean breeding grounds does not equal the estimated total population of North Atlantic humpback whales. Do large numbers of whales wintering on the mid-ocean seamounts explain that difference in numbers? These whales were well fed. They did not show signs of having starved for the past few months as do the whales that migrate up here from the Caribbean.

There was activity all around us today to the extent that we were often unsure of which whales to go to. Whales breaching, tail-lobbing, pec slapping, spy-hopping everywhere. Could this the beginning of the migration? Or, as mentioned above, are these predominantly young and older females who didn't want to go down to the Caribbean to breed and have come to the Bermuda seamount because it is the full moon and there is lots of food? The previous two seasons, when we had the opportunity to get out on the water at or around the full moon, we had similar experiences with whales to be seen everywhere. Are they feeding here because there is more food, plankton, zooplankton around the full moon? It seems so. Two years ago when I towed a funnel net with a bottle attachment for about 15-20 seconds on an upwelling during the full moon, the water sample was full of krill, copepods, decapods, fish eggs and tiny fish.

We estimate that we have seen between 20-30 whales today, and of course there could have been many more. We dropped the hydrophone a couple more times including on the crown at Challenger, but no whale song. Most of the time we spent out on Challenger today was between the crown and the northeast ledge.

See the video footage from today at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEYKYp99hbE&feature=channel_page 

 

And here is Nathaniel Butterfield's description of his whale watching excursion on Saturday- two days after our trip. It sounds like he experienced the same gam of young teenagers...

"Went out and arrived at Challenger Bank a little after 2 pm.  Saw one whale breach in distance and then came across a group of three whales travelling in close formation.  Had impression that the one we saw breach was a fourth, larger whale that kept it's distance and went on its way. The three came over toward us and approached within feet of the boat, circling the boat several times and remaining nearby for abut 15 minutes before moving away.  They stayed very close to one another the entire time.  I got the impression that they were juveniles but admit to not enough experience to really judge whale sizes and relative ages."

Camilla's data sheet can be found under 'diary data sheets'.

 

 

 

 

 
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