Nestled among the lush mountains along the Northeast coast of the Dominican Republic, Samana Bay proffers the quietest untouched beaches and most radiant turquoise waters in the Caribbean. But, that’s not all the bay has to offer. Wildlife protection organizations estimate that approximately 3,000 Humpback Whales that migrate every year, 80 percent of which travel between 2000 to 4,000 miles to Samana Bay to court and give birth, making it one of the best places in the world for whale watching.
Despite the fact that I have lived here for more than a decade, had repeatedly heard about the whales, and had even recommended that people who came to visit go see them, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I went myself. When I did, it was well worth the trip. Instead of going with one of the travel companies that arrange trips, a friend that lives in Samana took myself, and the small group I had gone with, down to the docks where he used to work and we made arrangements for them to take us out for a few hours. It was amazing. About 20 minutes out the boat captain slowed the boat and we were surrounded by three large males, each of which proceeded to take turns, breaching the water, spouting, tail slapping, and showing off in other ways for whatever single lady whale was in the vicinity. When the wind died down a little, we could even hear them singing their hauntingly melancholy mating song.
A Unique Whale Species
Later I read up on these lovely creatures and learned that the unique behavioral patterns that we enjoyed so much are distinct characteristics of Humpback Whales as a species. Because their playful antics, Humpback Whales are generally considered one of the most active whale species in the world, which makes them the most interesting members of the whale family for whale watching.
Discovery’s Animal Planet series on Humpback Whales says that, in a fashion reminiscent of traditional serenades, only the males sing to the females to attract their attention. Each male sings the same eerily flowing song during a given year, although he can improvise it, weaving in segments from previous years’ songs. These songs can last from 10 minutes up to 23 hours, and are apparently the basis on which females select their partners, using the characteristics of each song to choose the male whose lonely song attracts her most. Apparently, these characteristics reflect the fitness, age, and other aspects of the male singers, allowing her to make an informed decision.
Whale Watching Rules and Regulations
Because there weren’t many people out the day we went, we didn’t have to wait for other boats to leave the area before we could move in closer to see the whales. And, we couldn’t help that the whales swam up closer to us than is permitted by regulations. However, there are several rules and regulations that have to be obeyed when whale watching:
Only one boat that is larger than 30 feet, and 2 small boats from 23-29 feet, are permitted to observe the whales at any given time. While observing the whales for the allowed 30 minute period, these boats must turn-off their engines and stay at least 270 feet from groups of whales that include calves, and 165 feet from groups of adults. Any other boats must wait their turn 1,500 feet away for the observation period, and are only allowed closer once the other boats have moved out of the area. Lastly, passengers are not allowed to swim with the whales.
If you will be in the Dominican Republic between the months of mid-January to mid-March, head for Samana Bay. And, please, learn from me and try to do it before 10 years has gone by – it would be a shame to wait, or miss, this truly unique event.