2009 04 06 Out on Challenger again with more whales than ever! Print E-mail
Written by Andrew Stevenson   

We set off once again from Somerset Bridge on Dom Pérignon with Bob Steinhoff, Russ Wheyman, Camilla, Nicole Reed, Maria and myself. We pick up a yearling in shallow water south east of Sally Tuckers but then the mother appears and the two of them head out to the southern edge where we lose them. Heading out to Challenger we see multiple spouts as we come up to the Challenger platform. Over the course of the day we see spouts, pec slapping, tail lobbing or breaches in every direction but hear no singing on the hydrophone.

At one point three whales station themselves around and under out boat providing ideal underwater viewing but this changes in an instant when one whale approaches another and wraps its fins around the body of the other whale. In an explosive burst of energy there is a head breach, S-turn and tail lob within feet of the boat as the two whales have a set to. It's a reminder that the humpbacks have their own agenda no matter what we may interpret their behaviour to mean. There are several whales moving fairly rapidly in groups, single whales tail lobbing for long periods of time or breaching before being joined by others.

The overall impression is of a bunch of whales hanging out, checking to see who is around, moving from one another singly or in doubles or even groups. I presume this is a prelude to them sorting out their differences and getting into convoys they are comfortable with before heading north. One whale we saw on Thursday we saw yesterday and two flukes today match to flukes we saw yesterday. So we know for a fact that they are milling around Challenger for some days. Feeding isn't their prime motivation for being here otherwise they wouldn't be careening across the platform of Challenger, they would be on the edge feeding all the time. Interestingly, some of the whales seem very skinny, with their bumpy humps indicating where their veterbra are. But other whales seem very plump. Are these the whales that have been feeding on the open ocean seamounts all winter? Males have been competing down in the West Indies, and therefore expending a lot of energy. But the less active females are feeding their young so surely they would be skinny too?




So far we have seen a lot of yearlings and juveniles, which makes sense because these are the first ones to leave the Caribbean. Soon we should start seeing the 3-month old calves. These larger numbers as we approach the full moon correspond to my observations over the past two years. Once the full moon is over, I expect the numbers of whales here to drop immediately and then slowly to build up again for the next full moon, which will be the last we see of the humpbacks this year, except for the occasional late arrival.

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