Swim with humpback whales in the Dominican Republic
In a new tour for 2014, Naturetrek offers an incredible experience: the thrill of being in the water, swimming and snorkelling with humpback whales.
Every year, about 3,000 humpback whales leave their northern summer feeding areas in Cape Cod, the Gulf of Maine and beyond, and begin a 2,500-kilometre journey to the tropics where they will spend the winter. Many head for the Caribbean’s West Indies; the largest of their breeding grounds is Silver Bank, a submerged limestone plateau and reef 70 miles north of the Dominican Republic. The majority of pregnant females give birth there in February and by mid-March the calves are eagerly exploring their watery world.
Teaming up with the winners of the prestigious 2012 Planet Whale Responsible Whale Watch Award, Naturetrek’s exciting new tour is timed to coincide with this period in the inquisitive young whales’ lives.
During a seven-night stay on a ‘liveaboard’ vessel moored on Silver Bank, participants will make daily excursions in smaller boats to do ‘soft-in-water’ swims (passive, non-aggressive floating) with the whales. Wearing wetsuits, they will enter the water, swim about 50 metres towards the whales and then stay as stationary as possible at the surface of the water, keeping in tight formation, hoping that the whales approach. If and when they do, the thrill is indescribable – to have whale song (half of the whales are males and their singing echoes through the surrounding water day and night) vibrating through your whole body, and to see these vast animals at close range, must rank as one of life’s most extraordinary experiences!
To be approached by a calf – not so very small at about 7m long, though still dwarfed by the adult females and bulls – is also absolutely magical. The only problem may be remembering to take photographs during the excitement of the encounter! There will be chances to watch and photograph a variety of whale behaviour, including breaching, fluking, spyhopping, calves nursing and males ‘escorting’ females as they prepare to mate.
Naturetrek’s managing director, David Mills, says: “This is truly 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 and, in addition, the Dominican Republic is committed to protecting the whales in its waters – Silver Bank is part of the much larger ‘Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic’, which covers an area of 19,500m².
“Tourist numbers are kept determinedly low (fewer than 600 are permitted in an entire season) and this is one of only three places in the world where permits are granted to swim with humpbacks. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim with these ocean giants in a way that is designed to minimise impact on them.”
Travellers must be able to swim 50m unaided, and generally feel comfortable in the water.
Price: Departing 14 March 2014, the overall ten-day tour costs from £4,295 pp (two sharing), including flights (one overnight) from London, all transport, seven nights’ full board on the MV Sun Dancer II in well-appointed, en-suite cabins with air-conditioning, a night’s B&B in Santiago de los Caballeros, an expert tour leader and all permits and kit. For more information, visit naturetrek.co.uk.
Naturetrek operates the largest selection of expert-led wildlife holidays in the world. From birdwatching and photography to trekking and conservation, Naturetrek can cater to any wildlife-watching wish. All Naturetrek holidays and short breaks are escorted wildlife group tours guided by expert British and local naturalists, ornithologists and botanists. Naturetrek is a member of AITO (the Association of Independent Tour Operators).