14 February 2010

More Cetaceans!

As if dolphins weren't enough, today I swam with Humpback Whales! Two of them, a mother and a baby. It was a very brief encounter. A few of us went out on a salvage mission to recover lost items from our destroyed boat (more on that later) and a dive. When we surfaced from the dive, the two that stayed topside yelled excitedly for us to get in the boat. Apparently the whales had swam right by us without us knowing! I didn't believe them at first, but sure enough one of them surfaced moments later for a breath of air!

The baby surfacing.

We got the boat started and headed in their direction. They were in very shallow water (about 30ft) and moving very slowly. When they came to a stop, we jumped in and swam in their direction. I was out in front, and when the big mother came into view I got a bit nervous. Their size is quite intimidating. She was probably about 50ft long with huge pectoral fins (the fin in the picture below is at least twice as long as me!). The baby was on the far side hidden from view and I started wondering if they're protective of their young in the way bears are (sheesh, I'd hate to find out).

Big Whale, Shallow Water

Size comparison sketch from Wikipedia.

When she realized we were there, she lifted her tail very slowly and started swimming away. Her movement was very gentle, but the size and power was enough to make me hesitate. In seconds they were nearly out of sight. I called over to the others and suggested heading back to the boat was the only way we'd get to keep watching them. We did, and we followed them for about 10 minutes until they crossed out of the boundary of where we're allowed to take the school's boats. Even when they're not on the surface you can track their movements pretty easily. With each kick of their tail, the water churns with such force that it leaves a "footprint" of swirling water visible from the surface.

Slowly raising her tail.

And pushing away.

Seeing them isn't unusual, but also not very common. They pass through every year from the North to the Dominican Republic where they give birth, but they mostly travel farther East near Grand Turk and Salt Cay. I'm very hopeful we'll see them again. They're so incredible! I especially hope that Jessee will get the chance to see them. She didn't get to see the dolphins (work has been especially busy this week) and she chose not to come today because it was chilly (i.e. about 72°), gray, and a bit rainy. Now she really regrets it, and I feel guilty for seeing so much without her.

No comments:

Post a Comment