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Two O’Clock, a hundred yards! Coming up on Jonathan Bird’s Blue World, Jonathan travels to the Caribbean to swim with one of the world’s largest animals… the Humpback whale! Hi, I’m Jonathan Bird and
welcome to my world! ( ♪ music ) Whales are the largest animals
on Earth. Yet ironically they
are one of the most difficult animals to see and film. Normally Humpbacks are found in
the cool and rich waters of the
temperate seas. But every year for a short period of
time, Humpback whales from the
North Atlantic migrate to the warm and clear waters of
the Caribbean to mate and give
birth. And one of the largest
gathering places in the world
is the Silver Banks, in the
Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic occupies
half the island of Hispaniola
in the Caribbean sea. Just north of the island is a shallow area
called the Silver Banks—that’s
where the whales are found. During the summer, Humpbacks
live in the cool, murky waters
of the North Atlantic where
there are huge schools of small fish
to eat. They migrate two
thousand miles down to the
Silver Banks in the winter so they can
have their calves in warm,
calm, protected tropical water. This is the best place to film
them underwater because the
ocean is so clear. I will be working for the week
aboard the Turks and Caicos
Aggressor, a live aboard dive boat that spends about two
months a year here in the
Dominican Republic. I board the boat and meet
Captain Amanda Bryan. For most of my expeditions I
need a lot of dive gear, but
for this expedition, all I need is my mask, fins and
snorkel. Soon we depart from the marina
and begin a 90 mile trip north
over the open Caribbean Sea, under a beautiful blue
sky. Our journey takes about 6
hours. When we reach the Silver Banks,
I can see why this area is
popular with the whales. Isolated coral reefs dot the
entire area like a minefield. They provide protection from
waves, but the water between
the reefs is still 80-100 feet deep, providing the depth that
large animals like whales need. This is just one of many
shipwrecks that have
accidentally hit one of the
reefs in the Silver Banks. In fact, the bank gets
its name from the large number
of galleons carrying silver and treasure that supposedly
sank here. Captain Amanda carefully moves
the boat around the coral heads
to a mooring where our floating home-away-from-home will stay
all week. Amanda: “…so I need at least
300 feet of line out at this
point.” Soon, it’s time to launch the
Zodiacs. We will use these
smaller boats to attempt getting close to the whales on the
surface. While the Zodiacs are going
into the water, Humpbacks
surface right around our boat! I can hardly wait to get in the
water with them!! The next morning, my team and I
board the Zodiac for a day on
the water. Now it’s a matter of patience and
persistence. While Captain
Dennis is driving the boat
slowly in search of whales, I’ll be
watching the horizon for hours,
looking for whale spouts. Before we find any whales, some
dolphins find us! Our divemaster Mario is on the
bow with a keen eye for whales
in the distance. Finally, a whale that looks
approachable. Jonathan: “Two o’clock, a
hundred yards!” The whale is just hanging out,
not moving very fast, and
doesn’t seem afraid of our Zodiac as we float nearby. It’s time for me to attempt
getting close to the whale in
the water. I put on my
snorkeling gear and lower myself very
quietly into the water. Once I
have my camera, I float silently in the water to see if the
whale will come over to check
me out. The whale is hovering down
below, looking up at me. She
might be curious, but not that
curious. I wait a bit longer to see if
she will come up and
investigate. After a few minutes, the whale
starts to surface. Either I
have piqued her interest, or she just needs a breath of air.
Humpbacks can go nearly an hour
on a single breath if they need to, but resting animals
like this one usually breathe
every 20 minutes or so. Soon, it appears that the whale
is just getting a breath, and
has no interest in me. But she turns around for a
quick look anyway. If she would
just come a little closer! No such luck. She turns and
swims away. Her massive tail,
called a fluke, is as wide as two cars parked next to each
other! I watch her swim away. Chasing
after her would be no use. Even
when they are barely swimming, whales swim much faster than
snorkelers. Jonathan: So frustrating! The
whales are just really
skittish. They don’t want us
near them. We’re actually
frightening them. It’s hard to
believe that an animal that big
could be scared of us! So, we head off looking for
some different whales. What we
need to find is a mother and calf. Sometimes, the calves are
more curious than their mom. Mario: “Okay, two o’clock
whales!” Mario finds another whale, and
decides to see if it will let
him get close. He puts on his gear and slips into the
water. I’m waiting to see what
happens. But the whale vanishes. Jonathan: We’re having a little
bit of difficulty getting the
whales to accept us. They don’t mind the boat so much, but when
we get in the water, they’re
swimming away. Fortunately there are plenty of
whales around, and soon we find
another one. Once again I silently slip into
the water. There’s no way I’m
going to sneak up on a whale—they know we’re here.
I’m just trying not to frighten
them with a big splash. I look around to find the
whale. You might be surprised
how well they blend in to the bottom from a distance. And there she is, about 40 feet
below. Her calf is hiding below
her. Soon the calf sees me in the
water and comes out for a look.
This looks promising! The calf appears small compared to
his mother, but he is larger
than a minivan. He only looks small because his mom is larger
than a school bus! The calf takes a quick look at
me and decides to go back down
to his mom. But pretty soon mom needs a
breath and starts heading to
the surface. The calf follows. As he passes me, he does a
barrel roll, just for fun. Eventually his curiosity gets
the best of him and he finally
swims over for a look at me! He comes so close that his
fluke is only a foot from my
lens! And then he comes back for
another pass! I can feel the water move as
his fluke passes by! Jonathan: Oh Man, that was just
epic! Wow, there is just not
way to describe that except magical! I was looking at this
calf, it was huge, it was
looking back at me. Just kind of staring at each other, it
was really playful and mom was
letting it come over and hang out. Just such an amazing
experience to be in the water
with an animal so huge! It’s getting late so we head
back to the boat to enjoy a
beautiful sunset and get some
rest. The next morning, we load the
Zodiac again and hit the water,
looking for whale action. We see a mother and calf
resting nearby, so Mario and I
go in to see if the calf will play with us! When we approach, the mother is
rolling around, while her calf
is staying on the other side. Soon the calf gets curious and
comes over to check me out. Then mom comes over too. She
gives me a look, takes a breath
and dives down after her calf. Later in the day I come across
a couple engaged in a Valentine
dance. The female is hovering vertically in the water with
her flippers out to the sides,
to beckon the male over. She has juvenile jacks, a kind
of fish, nibbling on the loose
skin on the front of her
rostrum. I wonder if she finds them
annoying, like flies buzzing
around a person’s head, or if she enjoys the cleaning she
is getting. She doesn’t mind my presence at
all—I float right over her head
and she just hangs right below me, with the
complete attention of the male
Humpback. It’s a remarkable spectacle to
float above this whale and
watch her relax, with tiny fish nibbling on her nose! Later, having witnessed an
incredible spectacle, Mario and
I return to the boat. Jonathan: “Wow, that’s amazing.
They are so huge but, at the
same time they are so graceful, I mean they just
relax. When you get them in the
right mood and they let you come close, they are just so
relaxed about having us there.
It’s amazing they will let you so close.” And so, at the end of another
day at the Silver Banks, I
watch the sunset and think back
on the magical experiences I had
with Humpback whales. Of all
the places in the Blue World, this is clearly one of the most
special. ( ♪ music )

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