Every year thousands of Humpback Whales migrate from their northern feeding grounds off the Canadian and North American eastern seaboards to the warm waters of the Caribbean. Some 3,000 of them head for Silver Bank, a submerged limestone plateau and reef 70 miles north of the Dominican Republic, where the pregnant females give birth. It is in these protected waters that our new ‘liveaboard’ holiday is based, and it has one aim - to swim with Humpback Whales. Naturetrek has teemed up with winners of the prestigious 2012 ‘Planet Whale Responsible Whale Watch Award’ to offer this tour, which is unique to our programme. After a flight to Santiago de los Caballeros, we board our vessel and motor straight out to Silver Bank where we will be moored for the next seven days. Making daily morning and afternoon excursions in smaller boats, we will don wetsuits and snorkelling gear and go in search of the Humpbacks. On finding whales we will then enter the sea, swim for a short distance towards them, then remain still in the water, waiting to see if they approach. Being in the water, surrounded by whale song, perhaps with curious youngsters ‘checking us out’ is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
- This tour offers one of life’s ultimate thrills - swimming with Humpback Whales!
- Daily excursions from our ‘liveaboard’ vessel in search of Humpbacks
- Tour timed to coincide with calves’ most inquisitive period
- Tourist numbers are kept very low on Silver Bank (less than 600 per season)
- Listen to whale song & see behaviours such as fluking, flippering, breaching & nursing
- Good opportunities for keen photographers
- You must be able to swim 50 metres unaided in order to participate on this tour
- Strict guidelines in order to ensure your safety & minimise impact on whales
- Led by expert naturalist guides
All included in the price, except for evening meals on Day 1, and lunch and evening meals on Day 9.
Naturetrek has exclusively chartered the MV Sun Dancer II. Cabins are well appointed, with picture windows and airconditioned with en suite facilities. In Santiago de los Caballeros we will use a comfortable tourist hotel with en suite facilities.
Day 1 Fly Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic.
Day 2 Transfer Cofresi, board MV Sun Dancer II and depart for Silver Bank.
Day 3/8 Daily excursions to swim with Humpback Whales.
Day 9 Disembark MV Sun Dancer II and fly London.
It is late autumn in the north-west Atlantic. The waters are already cold; winter is coming. In response to fading light or some cue within their bodies, Humpback Whales leave their northern summer feeding areas in the Gulf of Maine, Cape Cod and beyond, and begin their long journey to the tropics where they will spend the winter. Some of the females will be pregnant with calves conceived the previous winter and it is to these warm tropical waters that they return to give birth. Their migration, of some 2,500 kilometres, will take about three weeks. Many of the whales will be heading for the West Indies, and the largest of their breeding grounds is Silver Bank, a submerged limestone plateau 70 miles north of the Dominican Republic. The plateau rises out of 3,000 metres of water to within 30 metres of the surface and is fringed on one edge by a barrier reef and, at the peak of the winter breeding season, some 3,000 Humpbacks congregate here. Half of them are males and their singing echoes through the surrounding waters day and night. The rest are females and juveniles, and the majority of pregnant females will give birth in February, their calves doubling in size during the last two months of gestation! The calves grow quickly on fat-rich milk and by mid-March they are eagerly exploring their watery world. Our new tour is timed to coincide with this period in the inquisitive young whales’ lives, and it offers a ‘chance of a lifetime’ experience — the thrill of being in the water, swimming and snorkelling with these magnificent and enigmatic giants of the ocean.
This is a unique Naturetrek tour. We do not offer any other ‘swim with ...’ holidays in our programme of cetacean-watching tours, but this really is an exceptional opportunity. We have selected our local operator with great care — indeed they won the prestigious 2012 ‘Planet Whale Responsible Whale Watch Award’. The Dominican Republic, too, is committed to protecting the whales in its waters, and Silver Bank is part of the much larger ‘Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic’ which covers an area of 19,500 square miles. Tourist numbers are kept very low (fewer than 600 being permitted a visit in an entire season), and regulations within the sanctuary are designed to minimise human impact on the whales, and they are rigidly enforced.
Our holiday begins with a flight to Santiago de los Caballeros, the second largest city in the Dominican Republic. From there we will drive north to Cofresi where we board the MV Sun Dancer II — a very comfortable 42-metre motor vessel that carries 17 passengers plus crew — and cruise north to Silver Bank where we will be based for the next seven nights. From our cruise vessel we will don wetsuits and snorkelling gear and make morning and afternoon excursions in smaller, more manoeuvrable, whale-watch boats in search of the Humpbacks. Adhering to strict guidelines that determine how we approach the whales, both in our boats and in the water, on finding whales we will enter the sea and typically swim for a short distance (about 50 metres or so) towards them. We will then stay as stationary as possible at the surface, keeping in tight formation, hoping that the whales will approach us! If they do, the thrill is indescribable — to be surrounded by whale song, vibrating through your whole body and seeing these vast animals at close range is one of life’s most extraordinary and unforgettable experiences! To be approached by a calf — not so very small at about 7 metres long, though dwarfed by the adult females and bulls — is also absolutely magical. The only problem is remembering to take photographs during the excitement of the encounter, which can be somewhat overwhelming!
We will be hoping to witness other behaviour during our time on Silver Bank. If fortunate we may witness males ‘escorting’ females as they prepare to mate, or see other whales breaching, fluking or spyhopping. There will be opportunities during each swim to film and photograph the whales underwater (though please note that no scuba diving or free-diving is allowed), possibly all the while enveloped by the most complex serenade in the animal kingdom! After a week of searching for, and hopefully encountering a good number of, these huge baleen whales, it will be time to return to the mainland of the Dominican Republic where we will disembark and make our way back to Santiago de los Caballeros for our flight home ... no doubt with memories of warm turquoise seas, and the faint haunting cadenzas of whale song still echoing in our ears.