The Bond Between Mother and Calf – 6/3/14

All of the humpback whales that I’ve photographed to date are from the Gulf of Maine population. This simply means that these whales visit areas throughout the Gulf of Maine during the spring, summer, and fall months solely to feed. In late fall they migrate south to their breeding grounds off the coast of the Dominican Republic to mate and have their calves. The reason they do this is simply because the newborn calves need to be born in warmer water in order to survive and that’s exactly where Silver Bank comes in.
Many, many years ago I learned of these cruises where you’re literally anchored about 80 miles off the coast of the Dominican Republic for an entire week to watch the whales on the breeding grounds. Not only that, you also have the opportunity to slip into the water with them and snorkel passively at the surface while getting a glimpse of what their lives under the water is like. The thought of snorkeling with whales fascinated me enough, but to think I could one day snorkel with a whale I knew… well, it quickly became a dream of mine to do this!

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Fast forward a few years, my mother (who is my whale watching buddy) and I met another awesome mother and daughter pair of whale watchers and quickly struck up a friendship with them. To this day, Jenn and Elaine remain very good friends and awesome travel companions. We’ve gone on a lot of fun and crazy adventures with them and made some wonderful memories. What started out as just joking around about snorkeling with the whales quickly became more and more real. Before we knew it we were booking flights, making deposits, buying snorkeling gear, and preparing for the adventure of a lifetime! We spent the week of 2/28/14 – 3/8/14 together down in the Dominican and what an incredible experience it was!

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This photo is my favorite underwater shot that I got. It’s far from perfect and was taken with a cheap, rugged underwater camera, but it’s still beautiful in its own right. This photo was taken on March 6th and this just happened to be our last in the water encounter with the whales. The water was rough and we bumped into each other as the waves knocked us around, but we didn’t care! We were snorkeling with a mother and calf pair along with an escort whale. The escort was very curious about us and watched us closely as it rolled on its side underneath us to get a good look at us. The mother was very relaxed and just swam slowly along. The calf seemed curious, but also shy and unsure at first. The majority of the encounter was spent watching the mother and calf as they interacted. The bond that they shared was very clear. The calf would stay tucked under her flipper and every now and then would leave her side briefly for a breath of air or to roll around a little bit while watching what these new objects (us snorkelers) floating at the surface were up to. After seeing them on the feeding grounds for so many years, getting this look into their lives under the surface was truly one of the most breathtaking things I’d ever seen. The tenderness between the mother and her young calf was amazing. To see such an enormous animal showing such gentleness and grace was truly awe inspiring. When we got back to the tender to get out of the water we were told that we were in the water for almost an hour, but to me it literally only felt like 10 minutes!

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It should be said that the Dominican Republic has strict regulations on this “snorkel with whales” activity. They only allow three guides to do this annually and they limit the number of guests they can take out. We chose Conscious Breath Adventures as our guide and cannot recommend them enough. The crew was friendly, professional, and wanted to make sure that we all had a safe and unforgettable experience. The chef on board was also incredible and kept us very well fed throughout the week including a full Thanksgiving Day feast on the Thursday which ended our time on the bank.

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As I type this, I’m just shy of 5 months away from returning to the Silver Bank with my mother and our dear friends Jenn and Elaine for another crazy whale filled adventure. Stay tuned for photos from that adventure!
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-Mandy
This story was adapted from a blog post, read the original here

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