Thursday, May 08, 2008

Whales in the Caribbean later than normal

Two weeks ago we were out on the first day of Antigua Sailing Week 2008. It was a day that Xtreme wasn't working and the Eco Tour boat was doing a private charter. Greg from Caribbean Helicopters, Ian from Acqua Films and several other friends came out with me to watch some of the racing starts off Falmouth Harbour. That was fun and we followed the racing for a while watching the fantastic yachts do some very close roundings at the Curtain Bluff gybe mark. Anyway, later we had planned to go on to the finish where there was going to be a beach party at Ft. James. This year the Antigua Hotel Association which owns and runs sailing week decided to move the regatta from Dickenson Bay on this day for a number of reasons. Anyway, it turned out to be a big problem with waves breaking on the shore causing many upsets for water taxis and their guests.
The coast guard with machine guns at hand were there to help (aka watch).Amazingly there were no major injuries. The four photos above were taken by Kevin Johnson and lifted from facebook. Anyway, on our way to Ft. James we were passing in close to Hawksbill as we normally do on the west coast when off to my I noticed something big and black break the surface about a 1/4 mile from us. It didn't spout as i normally expect whales to do when they surfaced. There was a big fast powerboat coming up behind me and we told them to slow down just after i saw the tell tale humped back come out of the water again. These whales were half way between Sandy Island and Hawksbill rock. I told the guys in the other boat to follow me and we went along to check the whales out. So many Antiguans who own boats somehow manage to miss whales every year. Gilbert Boustani a classmate of mine was driving the boat and said that it was his first time seeing them. Anyway, these whales usually move on my this time and i was surprised to see them in so close. The kept surfacing nearby and at one time when we were drifting with engines off trying to figure where they were...they passed right under our bow. It was such an amazing experience. As you know from reading my blogs if you are a "regular" reader, our country's leaders support Japanese whaling so in my opinion its always a good idea to show as many Antiguas as possible these amazing creatures. If someone is lucky enough to be up close to them and see them interact with their calves then they couldn't possible support whaling. Anyway, the mother and calf in this case just kept cruising around the boats without seeming to be bothered by us. Usually they keep swimming into deeper waters not wanting to be bothered by boats, but this time they didn't seem to mind that much. I called my dad on the VHF radio. He was so excited as he had just been alongside some super fast tri-maran which was passing all the other boats at speeds of about 28 knots he said. Anyway, i knew he would be more excited to hear about these relaxed whales. Many other boats had listened in to our conversation and before long there were five or six other small boats hanging around the whales. I told them to turn their motors off if they were going to stick around. At one time the whales got so close to us as we were just drifting that i just jumped in with my snorkeling gear. Several of the guys on the boat followed me and we were lucky enough to see the massive momma protecting her calf up close. IT was an amazing experience for all of us that day. The crazy thing was that it happened to be the busiest day of boating for the year and many sailing yachts as well as powerboats got a good look at the whales in the calm shallow waters. I was a bit worried though as they didn't move much over the next 24 hours. The eco boat had a good look that first day with all their local guests too. Many of them had never seen whales and all agreed that our government needed to stop supporting Japan. The next day JD and crew on the regular eco tour managed to see them not too far from the place we had been the day before. Wow! How lucky we all were!! That being said, i was very worried about the whales as i had never seen them stick around for that long in one place. My girlfriend and I made calls all over the world trying to find info on this situation. Were we about to see a stranding? I hoped not. All that boat traffic could have been problematic, and after all the phone calls we didn't seem to have any more answers. Then i remembered that a whale watching boat from Dominica was here helping Sailing Week by doing starts. One of our regular fishing crew "Big John" managed to hook up with the skipper of the whale watcher and explained the situation. The skipper told John that he had seen this sort of behaviour many times and said that when a whale and her calf have been in stressful situations out at see they often will come into a calm sheltered bay to relax and feed. When we are speaking of feeding we are only talking about the calf as the parents don't feed during the six month period that they are away from the nutrient rich waters of the North Atlantic. Anyway, possibly a big shark out in the Atlantic had bothered the calf enough for the mother not to have been able to feed it. Who knows but sure enough after 2 days they were gone again. We were all so relieved and happy to have seen them in the calm waters. Usually when we see them the whales are in the rough Atlantic and sitting around drifting in those waves is never that enjoyable for our guests. I was also surprised at how late these guys were staying around this year. Little did i know i would see way more in the days to come......

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