Connecting with the Humpbacks of Silver Bank
Overview of Trip to Silver Bank February 3-15, 2001.
Three boats have gained permission from the Dominican Republic to take "ecotourist" trips to Silver Banks.
I went on one, Bottomtime, a 95 foot Catamaran, with 20 other participants to spend a week anchored at the North
West end of the bank.
Silver Bank is 100 miles north of the Dominican Republic. To get there we crossed a part of the Caribbean that
is 4000+ feet deep and very rough. Silver Bank rises sharply like an undersea mountain that is 60-100 feet below
the surfaces. We had to pick our way through the coral heads that dot the bank like lily pads (they are green and
some shallow enough that you can stand on them) to get to our mooring. The coral heads that ring the shallow waters
of Silver Bank, make a calm warm oasis for the Humpbacks to give birth, raise their calves and mate.
Courtesy of Leslie Rapp
Many of the Humpbacks on Silver bank have been identified by unique patterns on their tail flukes.
Scientists have traced the migration of some well known individuals and found individual Humpbacks that delight
whale watchers in the waters off the Gulf of Maine where they are feeding during the summer, migrate to the Silver
Banks sometime in December to calve or mate. The females start migrating back to their accustomed feeding grounds
with their new calves in late March through April. SOON! During the period spent in Caribbean waters the adults
don't eat, using much of their stored summer fat while they compete for breeding rights in the case of the males,
or to nurse their young for the females. By the time they go back north again they are pretty hungry.
Our group had been given permission to float with the whales who were our neighbors on the ledge. We would go out
in zodiacs and approach whales as gently as possible, then slide over the side and drift on the surface (a bobbing
clump of humans with all colors of wet suites, masks and flippers must be quite a curious sight, like a bunch of
colorful mosquitoes). Often we would come on a mother and calf. At first they appeared as huge shadows deep under
the water, but some would approach us, drifting languidly to the surface and sometimes gliding right by us looking
us over with an eyeball as big as a fist. Since it was early February the calves were still very small and shy
(Only 13 feet, hiding behind a 50 foot mom). But some of the more mature ones seemed interested in us. It was a
wonderful feeling to connect with them in such a quiet and gentle way.
Courtesy of Leslie Rapp
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