5th May 08 Out to Challenger to listen to the whales Print E-mail
Written by Andrew Stevenson   

A lovely day on Sea Slipper with Michael Smith, Camilla Stringer from the Bermuda Zoological Society, Kevin Horsefield, Jonathan Gray and myself listening to whales out on Challenger Banks and telephoning friends and family in Bermuda and England using cellphones to transmit the live songs of humpback whales. After Micheal retrived a tangled grapple anchor left in 50 feet of water south of Chubb Heads as a security mooring for our overnight trip last week, we headed straight out for Challenger. Once on Challenger we followed a pod of four or five whales for some hours (they kept separating and joining again) while periodically listening to the singing of the whales to see what correlations we could find between the acoustical observations and the visual observations. It was difficult to determine which whales were actually singing although occasionally we did hear the singing stop and then see a whale surface and dive before the singing recommenced. At one point a whale did a fluke dive towards the boat, just fifty yards off and in the water I could hear the whale singing very loudly although I couldn't see him. Snorkling on the surface I could hear him sing and when I dived ten or fifteen feet it not only turned up the volume but I could feel his singing vibrate in my chest. Quite scary actually! Despite following the whales for hours we didn't get any underwater footage but we did see several breaches. It seemed to be a competitive pod with a female, calf, escort and perhaps two challengers. We also saw blows and breaches on the edges of Challenger while we remained mostly on the crown. One thing became very clear, where the singing was the loudest was the most obvious whale activity. Are the males singing for other males to join them to try and dislodge a primary escort, as we seemed to see. Or are the whales singing to gather together a larger pod to continue their migration up north? It certainly seems that the whales were all connected and moved in and out of each other's orbits. We managed to get two good fluke shots which have been dutifully sent to Allied Whale at College of the Atlantic in Maine. Detailed notes below from Camilla Stringer.

  

  

  

  

Monday 5th May on Sea Slipper.

9.00

Leave Darrells’ Wharf.  Heading straight to Challenger.

12.25

Although we have all been keeping watch we have not yet sighted any whales.  Andrew decides to use the hydrophone and records track #13.  We can hear very faint whale song.  By this time we are on the eastern edge of Challenger Banks.

12.46

Our first sighting of the day, two spouts, followed by a breach.  What appears to be two whales then dive, the flukes clearly visible.  N32 05 549 W65 03 010.

12.49

A further two blows followed by the whales diving – possibly two more whales.

12.53

Mike turns the engines off so Andrew can record track #14.  Now we can hear whale song very clearly.

12.57

Whales surface to stern and dive.  We also see a waterspout beginning to form.

13.07

Andrew is still recording.  He notices a break in the song and we all scan the water.  A whale is spotted 400-500 yards from the boat, it dives, and the singing starts again.

13.15

Track # 15

13.18

A whale surfaces 200 yards from the boat, blows twice and dives.  This time there was no break in the singing, so it must be another whale that is singing.

13.21

Two blows and what looks like a shallow dive.

13.23

Several more blows are spotted.  The whale (or whales) can be seen just below the surface.  A white fluke is visible as a whale dives.

13.36

Another blow followed by a dive.  Three more blows.

13.40

A whale surfaces beside the boat, blows twice and dives.  It appears to be traveling parallel with us.  We are in 200 ft of water.

13.50

Since the whale(s) we have found in this area all seem to be diving and spending a long time under water Andrew suggests that we circle the crown to look for other whales.

13.52

A blow is visible approx. 170 ft behind the boat.  We see a back four times (or four backs) before a very slow lazy looking dive.

13.58

Two whales surface together.  One performs an ‘s’ curve.  They remain on the surface, blowing regularly.  Now there are three.  Andrew is getting ready to film while Mike maneuvers the boat to a position that he hopes will put Andrew ahead of the whales.

14.06

Two whales surface simultaneously some distance apart.  Meanwhile we are traveling parallel with what appears to be a mother and calf, possibly with an escort, that are surfacing regularly. We are doing about 6 knots.

14.17

Mike puts Bob Marley on the stereo – whales seem to have been attracted to music previously.

14.20

The whales all dive.

14.24

A spout is seen way off in the distance.  Depth 170 ft.

14.27

We are heading east when Andrew spots the whales behind us – Mike turns Sea Slipper onto a reciprocal course.

14.28

They surface behind us again, blow two or three times and dive.

14.37

Engine off.  Track #16 – still playing Bob Marley.

14.39

Two whales surface astern.

14.40

Another whales surfaces way off our port side.

14.47

Three whales surface in a row and blow a couple of times.

14.49

They all dive.

14.55

There is one whale on our starboard, about 400 yards off.  N32 05 089 W65 03 920.

14.57

Another blow in exactly the same spot – may be a second whale.

14.58

Maybe three whales surface and blow.

15.01

They dive.

15.04

Three blows are seen to the east, then another three.

15.05

A different whale surfaces way behind us.

15.06

Another whale is on the starboard.  It is slapping it’s pectoral fins lazily on the surface of the water.  Meanwhile there is a small blow perhaps 150 yards from the boat – probably a calf.  We take photos – Mike #41, Camilla #185 – of a small black fluke.  Could there be Orca marks on it?  One whales does an s curve.

15.17

A whale surfaces 100 yards from the boat. 

15.19

A mainly white tail is waved around in front of us very lazily.  Sadly no one manages to get a photo.  Two more whales are in front of us.

15.20

Another whale is spotted about ½ a mile behind us.

15.21

One of the whales in front head straight for the boat, while the second seems to continue its original course.

15.26

Track #17.  The whales is front of us dive.

15.30

They surface again, further in front of us, and there is some thrashing around just below the surface.

13.40

They surface about 300 yards away, and seem to be resting just below the surface.  There are three spouts and, we think, three whales.

13.41

Two blows simultaneously in different places.  Half a fluke is visible.

15.44

What appears to be a baby surfaces about 100 yards off starboard.

15.46

The whales appear to put on a spurt of speed.  We have been matching their pace, and suddenly they outstrip the boat.  Again the surface of the water is disturbed by a lot of fast movement just underwater.  The group appears to split up and then dive.

15.47

One whale surfaces 400 yards to port.

15.48

Another spotted a long way off to starboard.

15.48

Breach.

15.52

Dive.

16.09

N32 07 097 W65 033 566.  We are heading east at a speed of four knots.

16.16

A spout is seen behind us, followed by tail lobbing.

16.17

A spout and some back visible.

16.19

Three spouts.

16.22

Andrew puts the hydrophone in to record track #18, but can’t hear anything.

16.25

Fluke.

16.31

Track #19.  Whale song.

16.33

Heading for western edge of Challenger.

16.35

Breach, then spy-hopping.

16.41

Two blows.

16.42

Another blow.

16.45

A whale surfaces dead ahead.

16.55

Track #20.

16.57

A whale surfaces 200 yards to starboard.

17.00

Two whales surface and dive together.  Kevin gets a fluke shot with Andrew’s camera.

17.19

Breach and tail lobbing some distance away.

17.24

Blow.

17.25

Track #21.  Nothing.

17.30

Another spout.  We are heading towards the mooring.

17.37

We are at ‘Mussel mooring’.  Track #22.  Faint singing can be heard.

17.43

We begin heading back to Bermuda.  Another wonderful day.

 

 
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