Silver Bank

Every winter humpback whales in the Atlantic Ocean migrate south to the warmer waters of the Silver Bank, a shallow coral reef about 90 miles north of the Dominican Republic, to breed and calve. This March I got to join the whales in their sanctuary, and swim with them. The whales are pretty active in their winter home, slapping their pectoral fins and their tail flukes on the surface of the water, swimming upside down and leaping out of the water. The newborn calves nurse while they are here, but the adults don't eat again until they are back in their feeding grounds up north. Mostly we had in-water encounters with mother and calf pairs. The mothers can stay down for about 15-20 minutes but the calves need to breathe every 5 minutes or so, which made them a little easier to follow. The calves were cute, around 15 feet long, which is pretty small compared to their mothers who could be 45 feet long, which is about 3 times as long as the boat we were in. Some of the mothers and calves had an "escort" - a male hanging around and hoping to get lucky when the female is ready to breed. Sometimes he would be challenged by other males, and they would race around the bank following the female, jockeying for position. I've included some topside photos in this section that were shot from the zodiac showing some of the more interesting whale behaviors we saw above water. The Silver Bank got its name from the Spanish treasure lost in these waters when their ships wrecked on the reefs in the 1600s. There was a shipwreck near where our mother ship, the Bottomtime II was moored, but it was a more recent wreck, a Japanese cargo ship called the Kinsei Maru. I didn't find any silver inside, but I did see a school of silvery halfbeaks hiding in the shelter of the wreck.
the photos:
All images © 2004 Julia Coburn