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Swimming with Humpback Whales: Dominican Republic

Swimming with Humpback Whales: Dominican Republic

Where the Whales Come to You

You’re lying in the water in a dead man’s float and you hear a sound like none other in the world. But did you hear it or did you feel it right down to the core of your being? Either way, you’ve just experienced the song of a humpback whale that is slowly swimming toward you, and you’ll remember this moment for the rest of your life. Being in the water with a 40-ton creature is unlike any other animal encounter. You’re a guest in the vast home of this magnificent animal.

In the Sanctuary of the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic, you enter the ocean as silently as possible, remain passive and quiet, and let the whales’ curiosity bring them to you. Scuba diving in the area isn’t permitted and swimming after a whale while snorkeling will drive them away. So you float quietly as a 5,000-pound (2,268kg) calf comes within touching distance and checks you out. Mom rests quietly 40 to 50 feet (12–15m) below you and keeps an eye out to make sure her baby is safe.

It is almost unimaginable that humans almost drove these incredible beings to extinction. And, it’s just as incredible that while they are now recovering they allow us back into their habitat. Every year between December and mid-April thousands of humpback whales migrate to the Silver Bank, located approximately 97km (60 miles) north of the Dominican Republic, to breed and calve. The location is ideal as the water is warm, 75° to 80°F (24°–27°C); the area is full of large, dangerous coral heads, which minimizes boat traffic; and the killer whales don’t inhabit these waters. Thankfully, the Dominican Republic declared this area a whale sanctuary in 1986.

Most tours to the Silver Bank are booked for 7 days, although some 10-day tours are available. The ships usually accommodate between 20 and 30 passengers and provide ample room for relaxation along with food and beverages. Whale-watching takes place from the ship and from tenders that take you to areas where you can slip over the side and assume the floating position. From the deck, you can see whales breeching, pec slapping, skyhopping, and lobtailing. It’s up to the experienced crew to determine when it’s safe to enter the tenders and the water. Not all the whales you see will be appropriate to interact with. Many of the whales are here for breeding and the males get aggressive when vying for a chance to mate.

Aside from shopping and basking on the beach in the Puerto Plata area, visitors can experience snorkeling, scuba diving, deep sea fishing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, and a limited amount of golf.

Whale Routes info (www.whaleroute.com). Dominican Republic Tourism ( 888/374-6361; www.godominicanrepublic.com).
Tours: Aquatic Adventures ( 954/382-0024; www.aquaticadventures.com/silver_bank). Conscious Breath Adventures (305/753-1732; www.consciousbreathadventures.com).
When to Go: Mid-Jan to mid-Apr.
Puerto Plata/Santiago.
$$ Grand Oasis Marien, Puerto Plata ( 866/863-9281 or 305/604-7880; www.grandoasismarien.com).

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