South shore spectacle: Humpback whales have been seen in their droves thanks to an unusual bout of good weather this month. Humpbacks are commonly seen in March and April as they migrate northwards along the South Shore. This photo was taken from the BAMZ whale watching trip on Saturday. *Photo by Andrew Dobson
We could hear them communicating
By Sarah Lagan
As a gigantic 40-foot female humpback whale swooped belly-up beneath us, she waved her great fins as if to say “good day little ones”.
I have been swimming with humpback whales on a handful of occasions but nothing prepared me for the epic hour-long encounter I had with a playful pod of seven on Saturday.
I was lucky enough to accompany an experienced group of underwater videographers and photographers who have been swimming with these majestic mammals for years.
I followed close behind videographer Choy Aming, partly for protection and partly because I know he is good at being in the right place at the right time.
Sure enough the female swam right up close to us until she was about 15 feet from my outstretched hand.
In the hour that followed we were never far from a whale as the whole group swam in circles to get an eyeful of us. I swam along side two whales at their gentle pace and was able to get close enough to get full eye contact with one.
It is then that you can really see the intelligence and sense the sentiment in these magnificent animals.
They were clearly in a playful mood, on a few occasions they swished their tails to break the surface of the water and they were all communicating though high-pitched chirps that belied their enormous size.
It’s an experience I will never forget — I wonder whether they may still be thinking of us.
FRIDAY, MARCH 23: An unusually prolonged period of beautiful, hot weather and calm seas appears to have led to record numbers of whales being identified in the month of March.
Great numbers of humpback whales pass though Bermuda during the months of March and April on their way from their breeding grounds in the south to the feeding areas of the northern Atlantic.
However, winter storms usually hinder whale-watching trips in the early part of the season making it difficult or near impossible to spot the majestic animals on a regular basis.
Wild life videographer Choy Aming said: “The weather has made it more accessible this year — people have been able to get out a lot more. We have had about nine days of unusually nice weather in a row for this time of year. Normally we would get one to two days of weather of that calibre.
“There is also a huge plankton bloom right now. Despite how nice the weather is, the visibility, even out at the banks (Challenger and Argus), is only about 40 feet.
“It is so thick with life right now and I think that’s why we are getting such a good show.”
Andrew Stevenson of the Humpback Whale Research Project, Bermuda has been collecting visual and acoustic data of our migrating whales since 2007. Through photographs, he has been identifying individual whales by their unique fluke markings which are then sent to Allied Whale — the marine mammal research group at the College of the Atlantic. Mr Stevenson says that this year has “by far” surpassed previous years’ numbers in terms of the number individual flukes he has identified as part of his research.
He said: “This year we have had 122 individual fluke IDs in ten days. We have matched five re-sightings in the full catalogue of 450. Some people are saying it’s all about global warming and the whales are coming early but these statistics tell me that is not the case.
“The whales tend to come back in the same week almost. Last year we had 150 individual fluke IDs and about 30 of those were re-sightings to the previous four years.
“We don’t have as many re-sightings this year for a very simple reason — because we are not usually out there in March to see them. We’ve not had the ten-day period where we can go out every day.
“We normally have the winter storms so when we get out we don’t see them.”
To add to the spectacle of the whales, Stevenson also reported seeing a pod of 50 spinner dolphins and swimming with four sperm whales which are much less common in Bermuda’s waters.
To see footage by Choy Aming of the humpback whales on South Shore, watch today's NewsBite.