Whale watching season is upon us! Humpback Whales pass through Bermuda on migratory routes from March through to April.
Most baleen whales undertake extensive migrations according to demands on feeding and mating, and Bermuda is one of the only land masses Humpback Whales encounter during their migration to their northern feeding grounds. In the Winter, Humpacks seek out warm, low-latitude oceans in order to mate and give birth. In the Spring, they begin their migration to cold, high latitudes to feed on populations of krill in polar waters.
“I thought there was a massive car crash. We came around the corner and saw abandoned cars in the roads. But it wasn’t an accident – there along John Smith’s Bay was a group of whales, and everyone had stopped to watch! They were inside the reef line, practically on the beach. They obviously knew their way out, but it was amazing that they were able to come so close in-shore.” – My step-mum on when she saw a group of whales.
It is thought that Humpbacks of the Northern and Southern hemispheres never meet because seasons are reversed either side of the equator. This means that as whales in the north are travelling towards breeding grounds, whales in the south will travel towards feeding grounds and vice versa. It is possible that this feature of the globe regulates the activity of whales and other migratory species in order for levels of competition for food and mating partners to decrease.
Humpack Whales are credited with being some of the most acrobatic of whales. They are often seen exhibiting energetic behaviours such as breaching, fin slapping, waving their tails and back floating. Whales are very mysterious marine mammals which have inhabited the Earth for at least 50 million years, and yet still little is known about them. It is unknown why whales breach, for example, but there are many hypotheses. Some scientists say that whales breach in order to shake parasites off their skin by use of the impact on the water. Another hypothesis is that whales breach to communicate over long distances, or, for example, in rough seas, when whale song is not so easily heard.
It is possible, of course, that the whales are simply playing or showing off, and there’s no doubt that the impressive aerobatics are fascinating to watch. Whales are able to be seen during their migration through Bermuda from March through April. Whales can be seen from South Shore; particularly good spots include Church Bay, Warwick Long Bay, and Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, but watching from a boat off shore is often more rewarding than watching from land as whales are usually curious of boats and will willfully approach a tour. You can book a whale watching trip here.
Andrew Stevenson is a scientist and photographer who has conducted extensive research in to Bermuda’s humpbacks. He has observed their pelagic and social behaviour through firsthand encounters and has created a film, “Where the Whales Sing”, and written a book entitled “Whale Song”. His research has enabled greater insight in to the lives of humpbacks passing through Bermuda, and raises awareness about these majestic cetaceans.