A Whale of a Tale: Humpbacks at Silver Banks, Dominican Republic (2019)

Silver Banks in the Dominican Republic is about 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Puerto Plata and is only accessible on a liveaboard. It is one of two places in the world where you can legally get in the water with humpback whales and only about 630 snorkelers are allowed to go each season (January – April). However, in water encounters are restricted to a few situations only that include sleeping whales, singing males or a “Valentine” when the male is courting the female and the two are gently dancing around each other.

Mom & Baby Backs (1)

Mom & Calf (4)

The majority of the expedition had no in water encounters as the whales were constantly on the move so it turned into a glorified whale watching trip. However, the above water interactions were numerous and close and included breaches and pectoral slaps. For those who have not experienced humpbacks then these encounters were second to none. Unable to get in the water we resorted to hanging our cameras over the boat and blindly shooting towards the whales hoping to capture them under water. Fortunately, we were able to get some reasonable shots.

Mom & Calf (3)Mom & Calf (1)

Mom & Calf (5)

A female that has given birth to a calf will generally have males competing for her attention and mating rights. There is an escort, a male that currently has battled off his competitors and swims next to the female and calf. Then there is the challenger, another male that is attempting to replace the escort. Battles between males occur and the winner temporarily becomes the escort until another males challenges. The mother and calf, as well as the escort and challenger, can be seen in this photo.

Whales X 4

Unfortunately, it was not until the last day that we came across a mother and a calf that had no accompanying males. The mother can sleep for 25 minutes but the calf needs to come up for air every few minutes. This mother was stationary at about 40 feet and the calf would swim from beside her or under her to the surface, breath and return to her. This was our only good underwater encounter of the week.

Mom & Calf (2)

Baby Whale (1)

Upon reflection, these are wild animals and interactions with them are on their terms. Sometimes they give us only a brief moment to share their world and at other times we get lucky and have numerous and spectacular encounters.

Baby

 

 

From Safari To Sharks

Strange to be photographing lions and leopards in the Serengeti National Park in Africa one week and then photographing sharks in the Bahamas about a week later! We departed from West Palm Beach, Florida and headed to the famous “Tiger Beach” off of Grand Bahamas Island in hopes of finding tiger sharks. The Dolphin Dream, a 83 foot ocean expedition liveaboard, was our home for a week and we were well looked after by Captain Scott, Gerard, Shane & Heidi. We sailed through the night, cleared customs in the Bahamas in the morning and headed to a spot to do a few checkout dives in the afternoon to make sure our gear was working fine.  It wasn’t long before we were taking photos of lemon sharks which commonly inhabit this area. Day 1 was all about lemon sharks.

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Lemon Shark, Bahamas
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Lemon shark with remoras attached getting a free ride in the Bahamas
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Lemon Shark in clear blue water near Grand Bahama Island

Sharks are opportunistic feeders and lemon sharks are no exception. They are slowly swimming about searching for food but once it appears they quickly shift gears and the action can get lively. These sharks discovered food in the sand and the competition to get there first is fierce. Notice a second shark below the first one in the second photograph.

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Lemon Sharks Looking for food in the sand, Bahamas
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Lemon sharks competing for food at the Anchor Chain dive site, Bahamas

Lemon sharks are easy to identify as the first and second dorsal fin (the fins on top of their backs) are almost the same size whereas most other sharks the back dorsal fin is much smaller. These sharks can reach 11 feet in length but are commonly found in the 7 to 10 foot range which are the size that we photographed. Their eyes are a bit smaller than other sharks and they often swim with their mouths partially open.

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Lemon Shark Cruising Through the Bahamas
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Pair of Lemon sharks north of Grand Bahama Island
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Lemon Shark at Anchor Chain Dive site, Bahamas

One of the new photographic techniques we are trying to master is what is called an over-under where you place your camera 1/2 in the water and 1/2 out. This captures the shark in the water and at the same time shows the sky. We tried these as the sun was going down at the end of the day. It gives a very unique and different perspective of these lemon sharks. Not bad photos for our first attempt at “lemon-snaps”! Thanks to Terry Steeley of In The Blue Photography for all his advice about this technique.

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Pair of Lemon sharks, Bahamas photographed at sunset
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Lemon shark, Bahamas using over-under technique at sunset