The Season Begins…
The whales are arriving. The excitement is palpable. It seems to get higher every season. At least, that is what it feels like for us. Perhaps it’s much like the first snowstorm cycles, bringing fresh powder to skiers and boarders–or those first winter swells for surfers after long, hot summers. Perhaps it’s because we have not seen the whales for eight months. Perhaps. One thing is for sure, the humpback season is upon us: it’s here. We had a Christmas Day sighting–and now, late January brings in the first real wave of arrivals, teeing us up perfectly for the following ten weeks.
The real deal starts soon. February and March are the peak season, and the best time to see these beautiful leviathans as they cruise past and around our islands. Many of these migrating humpback whales will stay around Providenciales, and many more will swim on further south to the Turks Islands, the Silver Banks, the Dominican Republic, and beyond.
Every season is different. The weather brings the most uncertainty. Strong winter trade winds and cold fronts, while great for the corals as they bring in colder water, can create tricky conditions topside. And for us, the avid whale watchers, good surface conditions are paramount. We need calm days. And that means low wind. The whales don’t care either way–they are home in the tropics; it is warm and safe for them to rest with their new calves before they migrate further north. But we do care: we need flat water to get out there and look for them. So, when the weather turns in our favour, all bets are off. Our focus and our attention, across all our trips, turn 100% to the serious business of finding the humpback whales.
Bending Our Trips
We have always found that to see whales, we need to be where they are. That place is in the blue, behind the reef. During whale season our captains and crew will “bend” our trips – the Snorkel Eco Tour, the full day Edge of the Banks snorkel adventure, and ALL private charters, both diving and non-diving, to increase the chance of spotting the whales.
We will take different routes. We will drive slower. Our eyes will constantly be focused on the horizon watching for the giveaway signs: the “smokestacks” (whale breaths), breaching, or fin and tail slapping. We also all monitor our own “in-house” messaging groups for any notices of recent or current whale action.
That means between our nine vessels that are running daily during peak season, we have a lot of well-trained eyes on the water. And with that kind of coverage, our chances of finding them are extremely high. We back ourselves to find them and have an excellent track record of getting our guests into the water to see them swim. And that is the holy grail. The soft in-water encounter. Nothing that we do really beats that experience. And the more one does it, the more one has an almost insatiable need to seek new experiences.
No two encounters are the same. No two whales are the same. That might be stating the obvious–but these sentient mammals, when approached correctly, react, interact, and communicate through movement and body language. To witness a mother and calf or playful adults in their element is astonishing. It is quite literally breathtaking.
What does that mean? In essence, it is a philosophy borne from over 25 years of Big Blue’s whale watching experience and own expertise, but also very much firmly rooted in expert whale guides and their experience in places like the Silver Banks and Tonga. It is what works.
The common denominator is time. Patience is key, as is respect and spatial awareness. We always must ask ourselves–what are the whales doing? What behaviours are they displaying? Are they calm, are they active? Are they moving fast? Are they sleeping, or resting, or is the calf we have spotted feeding?
To do this well we need to slip into whale time. Understanding that is the first step to creating opportunities. Minutes easily drift into hours. So, any real ambition to swim with whales hinges upon giving them time and above all, giving us time. Not doing so creates stress and very often culminates in “rushing” the whales. And that, my friends, is the last thing we want to do. We need to be calm when we slide into the water. We need to be slow when we swim. We need to be respectful in their space.
Do that and you might just be allowed into their circle of trust.
See you on the water.
By: Philip Shearer, Big Blue’s head whale guide and one of TCI’s whale experts.
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