Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. V No. 4 October 1996

Some Thoughts on Listening to Humpback Whales in the Caribbean

By Paul Knapp, Jr.

Can the beauty of watching North Atlantic humpback whales on their summer feeding grounds equal listening to them in the Caribbean six months later? Maybe.

Sometime in December I will be returning to Tortola, British Virgin Islands, for my thirteenth season as a listening guide for humpback whales. Over the years I have taken out over one thousand listeners in my inflatable boats (not all at the same time), so now I am beginning to understand a little more about this.

By chance, many surprised snorkelers and scuba divers hear humpbacks during the singing season, mid January through March. A lot of others would hear them, too, if they knew what to listen for, as songs can be faint and far away as well as obvious and close. I have heard them many times while in the water, but one special listen was during a routine day-off boat ride for three to Jost Van Dyke Island. On the way we stopped for a short swim at the pretty lee anchorage of Sandy Cay. It was March 30th and the singing season here was nearly over, yet we heard a humpback while free diving in 5 or 6 feet. Around us were several anchored sailboats and when we told the crews that we could hear a whale, many jumped in to listen - it was beautiful!

But sometimes the open spaces of deeper water are better for listening. That's when a hydrophone from a stopped boat might be better. With the cable over the side and the hydrophone down several feet or more, you can listen at your convenience to humpbacks as far away as ten miles. Many amplification systems can be imagined, even using the microphone and headphone jacks of a tape recorder set to pause. For sharing, try small portable battery powered speakers, etc. Of course the seas can be rough too so it's not always idyllic but it can be too.

There are also towable hydrophones which can be enjoyed - I'm just learning - on windier days from a sailboat.

Hydrophone companies are listed in the Thomas Register in many libraries. Good luck!

Photo of bay

The mouth of this bay in the British Virgin Islands,
protected from the easterly tradewinds, is usually a
good place to listen to whales.

Photo of hydrophone

Paul demonstrating the hydrophone to people on his
inflatable who are about to try to listen to live singing.

Go to next article: Report on Cetacean Research in Brazil or: Table of Contents.

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