Monday, May 30, 2016

Whale Watching

Sperm whale skeleton

Special Note - Taking pictures of whales is like taking pictures of dolphins.  It is tough.  The timing of the shutter is usually different than the timing of your finger and the whale.  Additionally, when they are on the surface most of the mammal is still below the surface - very little is above water.  These whale pics are probably best viewed individually using your own zoom button. 
Drawing of internal pieces and parts to go with the skeleton of the Sperm whale

To date we have had only two whale sightings.  One was the first year between Guadeloupe and Ils de Saints and the second was last year off Martinique.  That is it despite the fact that the eastern Caribbean is home to many types of whales during certain parts of the year.  Tom's dive instructor in Trinidad is actually from Dominica.  Michael told Tom that if we get up to Dominica, we needed to go whale watching.  The Anchorage Hotel here in Roseau is Whale Watching central.  They have a full scale whale skeleton on display along with educational posters.

We know very little about whales so we decided to play full tourist and go on a whale watching excursion, sans Fanny pack and sandals with socks.  Of course there is no guarantee of seeing whales.  The whale watching girl said they didn't see any the day before but they heard them.  Great.  Oh well, what the heck we thought.  At the very least we will get a nice boat ride on a big 78 ft Fountaine Pajot party cat.  We bought our tickets, $69 US each including water, juice and rum punch.  This is the end of the season so there were only 11 of us - awesome.  In Trinidad they would put no less than 100+ people on this boat with 20+ speakers blasting Soca.  Ha!  FYI - the guide said whales like reggae best and thus we listened to reggae on this cruise but at low volume.  Bob Marley and the Whalers!  Get it?  Ha!
We had a brief educational talk all about whales and specifically sperm whales.  It seems there is a group of whales that call Dominica home and are generally found around here.  Because of that fact, this group is one of the most studied groups in the world.  Did you know that whale groups have their own whale dialect?  Did you know that whale groups are matriarchal?  Did you now that a mother whale will use a babysitter to watch her calf while she dives deep to feed?  Did you know some whale groups use specifically assigned babysitters, while other whale groups use more of a daycare type mode of babysitting?  Did you know that male whales leave the family group around 15 but don't mate until they reach full maturity around 30?  *What they do all that time, I am not sure.....explore the world?.....put on white shirts and ties and knock on doors handing out copies of the gospel of according to whales?  Ha!  Sorry, couldn't resist that one.   Did you know that all but two of a whale's ribs are collapsible for diving deep?  Did you know that the two ribs on each side that don't collapse are protecting the vital organs like the heart and lungs?  Did you know that the actual sperm whale skeleton shows an evolutionary fact that tells us whales were once land dwellers that evolved and transitioned to the sea?  *Sorry Kansas peeps for that shocking bit on evolution.  I will try to warn you next time so you can shut your eyes and plug your ears.  Did you know that each fluke is different, like fingerprints?  Did you know......there is so much to know and we only got a short briefing.  These are fascinating, complex mammals.  More learning is definitely required on our part.  But on to the actual whale watching.
14:00 all 11 of use piled aboard the big party cat and off we went.  Tom asked the captain half joking "Any chance we are going to put up the sails today?"  He sort of hemmed and hawed "Well, the thing about sailing is the wind doesn't always take you the way you want or need to go."  NO S_IT!  Off we motored.  At the three mile mark, the captain shut off the motor and the crew (2 guys and a gal) busted out a rusty speaker (the kind someone might plug an electric guitar into) and plugged a simple hydrophone and dropped the mic into the sea.  Instantly we heard clicks - whale speak.  It was just clicks to us tourist but to the crew, it meant specifics like one whale was diving down deep and another was near.  Wow!  The captain fired up the engine and the search continued.  Later they taped (yes, taped) this hydrophone to a pole with a small directional dish at the end so they could better tell the direction of the whales.

15:05 "Thar she blows!"  One of the crew yelled.  Omg!  Our first whale sighting.  It was on the surface.  We could see the spout as it blew out breaths.  FYI - a sperm whale's blow hole is on the left so the spout is always slanted to the left.  If you see a whale spout and its slanted, chances are it's a sperm whale.  We could see part of the back.  After several mins we saw the curve of the back, then the dorsal fin, and finally the fluke as it dove deep.  So very kewl.  This whale can remain down for up to 45 mins so we motored on.  Aboard they had a laminated Fluke book identifying 10 or so different whale groups and pictures of the fluke of each whale in that group.  Each distinctly different from the next. Fascinating.
Can you see the spout - it's there
Do you see it now?  See the left hand angle
Dorsal fin of the whale as it starts to dive
It wasn't long until we heard "There!  Captain, whale over there."  *I was relieved the crew didn't abuse the whole "Thar She Blows" phrase.  Our captain expertly motored us toward the whale, close but not too close.  We watched the same pattern again, breathing/spouting for a bit and then a nice dive into the deep.  
Another one
The next sighting was a mother and calf.  Spectacular.  A little later, we spotted another mother and calf.  Or it might have been the same pair, but really, who cares.  It was all good.  
See the left hand slant of the spout indicating it is a sperm whale

Tom looking for whales
By now we knew what to look for on the surface of the sea and some of us passengers were helping spot.  Others chatted and drank rum the American lady that complained of being on many whale watching trips in different parts of the world but never seeing a whale...."And another rum punch please."  I wonder why she never saw a whale - roll eyes.  Anyway,  I was the first passenger to spot a whale.  With the first spout I wasn't 100% sure....was it just a wave?  But on the second spout I knew....."There!! Over there!  I see one!"  It's so exciting when you first spot a spout and then motoring closer and then finally seeing the whale on the surface.  "Give that girl a rum punch!" the crew joked.
Another one
All in all we had 8 whale sightings in our 3 1/2 hour trip.  It was truly amazing.  We were out about 4-6 miles off the coast of Dominica.  Sometimes the whales are further out.  On very, very rare occasion they will venture in closer.  
Whale on the surface
Just hanging out
Left hand slant again

This was just our first lesson on whales.  We have much to learn but now we know what to look for.  
The fluke coming up thus the whale is diving deep

Omg - I almost forgot to tell you we also saw whale poo.  Yes, I said whale poo.  As the wise children's book says "Everyone poops."  And so do whales.  It seems they defecate just before diving deep.  Think about it,  the deep depth and extreme pressure are probably something like morning coffee to them so they go before they dive deep just like we go before we leave the house...... but I am only guessing.  A minute or so after the whale lifted it's fluke to dive deep, we passed by a large brown slick on the water.  I thought to myself "I wonder if that is whale poo?"  And sure enough, seconds later the crew said "Look, look everybody.... whale poo."   
We think it's a flipper - look close and you will see more whale behind in the water - a big one

If you come to Dominica, we would highly recommend a whale watching trip.  
The fluke - going deep
*Special Note - Readers, do you know the game show Wheel of Fortune?  It used to have this catchy adverstising tune that ran on TV quite a bit....."I'm a Wheel watcher.  I'm a Wheel watcher.  Everyday...."  While I never watched the show, I certainly remember that tune.  It's been playing in my head lately as..."I'm a whale watcher.  I'm a whale watcher.  Everyday...."  Now you sing it. 

1 comment:

  1. Great report! How exciting that must have been. I have never seen a whale but someday hope to get to go on a trip like this.