WHALE WATCHING

Tours arranged by Eliseo Dishmey
 

TOURS ARRANGED BY:

Telephone:   Eliseo Dishmey at (829) 921-0454

Tour Samana with Terry:Office: (809) 538-3179

 

2017
January 15--March 31st


WHALE WATCHING IN SAMANA BAY

BY TOUR SAMANA WITH TERRY

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January 15-March 31, 2016

For information regarding Whale Excursions and brothers arranging these, as well as details of the rates
and scheduled excursions, kindly call Eliseo Dishmey at 829-921-0454

Rates range from $65 to $85 US

 

       

      

Whale Watch excursions leave early in the morning, go to Barcardi Island at noon for buffet luncheon and swimming.


AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HUMPBACK WHALE AND ITS BEHAVIOR

The Bay of Samana is recognized as one of the best locations in the world for watching humpback whales.  Thanks to the shallow, warm and protected waters of the Bay of Samana, it is one of the most important reproductive areas of the humpback whale.

Every year humpbacks from the North Atlantic migrate to these Caribbean waters to court, mate, and calve.  Nevertheless, certain human activities continue to threaten the humpback and its habitat.  The Centre for Conservation and Ecodevelopment of the Bay of Samana and itsEnvironment - CEBSE - is dedicated to the conservation and protection of the whales in Samana Bay.

The following introduction to the humpback whale explains why the humpbacks come and what they do here, so that you can appreciate what you see and, hopefully, help in ensuring that these playful giants do not cease to return here.

What's in a name? (Megatera novaeangliae)

The humpback got stuck with this mouthful of a scientific name because of its unusually long, wing-like flippers - megaptera, Greek for large winged - and because the first humpback to be officially described was found off the New England (novaeangliae) coast of the United States.  Why is it called a humpback?  Probably from the way it arches its back out of the water before a dive.

Like us, whales are mammals, nurture their young, breathe air, and are warm-blooded.  Adults reach 12 to 15 meters in length and weigh some 30 to 40 tons.

Humpbacks are considered to be one of the most active species of whale in the world, with an amazing repertoire of behaviors.

Tell-Tale Marks

Apart from the extremely long, white flippers, the humpbacks can also be recognized in profile, by the elongated head, also bearing tennis-ball size proturbances.  These so-called sensory knobs have stiff whiskers sticking out to help detect vibrations and movements in the water.

 
Sensory knobs or nodules (aka stovebolts)    Fluke showing unique markings

Adults are dark grey to black with a white belly.  Calves are light grey.  The tail or fluke is muscular and serrated along the trailing edge.  The pigmentation on the underside of each fluke of each individual humpback is different.  Together with marks from scars, these "fingerprints" enable each whale to be identified, named, and catalogued.  Perhaps if you see a humpback again either in Samana or in its feeding grounds, you might be meeting an old friend!

Table Manners.

The humpbacks do not eat during their stay in the Caribbean.  Despite their gigantic proportions, their preferred diet is minute fish (sand lance, herring) and krill - a small shrimp-like crustacean found in abundance in their summer feeding ranges in the norht.

 

  Lunge feeding in northern feeding range.

 

Humpback whales do not have teeth (the only large whale with teeth is the sperm whale, immortalized in Moby Dick) but baleens.  Made up of hundreds of fibrous plates arranged like a comb, the baleens are used as a filter.  After the whale has lunged open-mouthed through a shoal of small fish or krill, it closes its jaws, and the tongue pushes the water out between the baleens to retain the catch on the inside of the mouth.  To accommodate the large volume of water gulpped in this fashion, the humpback has elastic grooves or folds, stretching from mouth to chest, which baloon out with the scooped water.  One of the humpback's specialties is so-called bubble fishing.  It is the only whale which traps or encircles its prey by letting out a stream of bubbles around a shoal of fish to form an optical net.  Humpbacks eat up to a ton of fish or krill a day.

Easy in the islands

The humpbacks stay in the Caribbean from January to April.  During the season they have no option but to lose some of their fat.  It's not that they are on a voluntary diet, but that there is just simply not enough food, at least not of the right type and concentration for their feeding methods.  So they must have a good motive for coming this far.  Yes, they come to breed and calve.

But why here?  It is generally assumed that the newly born calves do not have enough fat to survive birth in cold waters of their feeding ranges.  But this has not been proven, and other whales of similar size give birth in colder water.

Yet all humpbacks from the western North Atlantic come to the Caribbean.  Most move between tranquil and protected areas around Silver Bank, which lies to the north of the Peninsula of Samana and the Bay of Samana.

Humpbacks from different feeding herds meet here.  This allows intermixing between these herds and avoids the genetic impoverishment associated with inbreeding.  Perhaps this is the overriding reason they come here.?

The males have little more than two months to get picked out by a receptive female to be allowed to escort her and hopefully, mate with her.  To try to gain the attention of the females and to show other males who's tougher - a way of proving their healthy genetic makeup - the males put on some impressive displays (as described below under Behaviors).

Waiting for whales to watch

On the lookout

Humpback whales can stay submerged for 5 to 40 minutes.  Please bear in mind that the whales are in their habitat and not in a zoo.  Part of the whale watching experience is watching out for clues as to their whereabouts.

Thar she blows!

The spout or blow of a whale is usually the first sign of their presence.  Contrary to popular belief, the spout is not a column of water, but condensing exhaled breath and entrained atomized water from around the blowhole.

 

Flippering and tail lobbing, i.e., pounding the water with the fluke.

 

 

Humpbacks pounding or energetically slapping the water with their flukes are said to be tail lobbing.  This is intended to impress whoever is in the vicinity.

When a whale appears to stand on its head with its lower torso and fluke standing out of the water, this is referred to as a headstand.

A humpback arching its back, showing its hump, then lifting up its fluke is about to dive.  A great opportunity for observing the marks on the underside of the fluke.

                   
Arching its back in preparation for a dive                        Lifting the fluke out of the water to go into

               
Spyhop - eyes are just raised above water level            Humpback breaches and turns in mid-air

The impressive spectacle of a humpback surging out of the water is known as breaching.  If it almost completely leaves the water its a full breach.  Sometimes only the top half breaks through to the surface - this is called a chin breach.

A bizarre variant is when the whale raises itself slowly, vertically, out of the water.  This is known as spyhopping - as if to see what's going on.

 

Flippering and rolling

 

 


 

Humpbacks have a variety of surface activities.  For example, flippering -- lifting one or both flippers in the air to slap the water or wave it in an arc.  Sometimes they roll on their backs, curving both flippers upwards and inwards as if praying.

Rolling is when they rotate horizontally, slapping the water with the flippers on the way.  On the other hand, logging is just lying on the surface without moving a muscle.  They are resting or even sleeping like a log.

Rouph Play

Without a doubt the activities of whales in surface active or so-called rowdy groups are impressive to any onlooker.  These groups are made up of two or more whales, most of which are males (up to 20), in vigorous, aggressive competition, even fighting for the right to escort a female, who is always in the area.

Remember, it is the female who chooses!  The acrobatic displays of manly prowess - breaching, tail lobbing, and flipping - may be accompanied by body checking, ramming, or slamming, and vicious slashing with flippers or flukes, sometimes causing minor injuries to sensory knobs, dorsal fins, backs and flukes.

Courtship can last for days, the primary escort changing occasionally, until the female is ready to mate.

Reproductive Cycle

Spot the difference

It's difficult to sex a whale, but they can be told apart fairly easily in the Bay of Samana on the basis of their behavior or certain other clues.  In a group of whales, one (female) will be bigger (bit this is difficult to see) and is being constantly accompanied by the primary escort (male).  Obviously a calf indicates that the whale accompanying it is its mother.

 
                                                                    Mother and Calf

Neonates and Calves

The gestation period is about one year.

When born (under water) the mother guides the neonate to the surface for its first breath.  At birth, calves usually measure some 3 to 4 meters and weigh about a ton.  The mother produces a thick milk which is rich in fat.  A young calf drinks up to 50 gallons (190 litres) a day, and puts on some 45 kilos a day and doubles in size within a year, reaching 8 or 9 meters.

The method of sucking is unusual.  The mother extrudes the milk, the consistency of yogurt, from mammary slits on its underside.  The young calf has to dive below its mother to gulp the milk as it is squeezed out.  The mothers who are not eating, lose a considerable amount of weight in producing so much milk.

Calves are dependent on their mothers during the first year.  Humpbacks reach sexual maturity after 4 to 7 years.  Females give birth to one claf every three years, although a few have been known to give birth two years in succession.

Please take care!  Mother with calf

The time spent watching a mother with calf should be kept short and the distance large (80 meters).  Mothers tend to separate themselves from the active groups and seek protected zones.  If a mother consistently puts herself between the whale watch vessel and the calf, it is time to leave them alone.  So if you're a passenger on such a vessel, don't feel embarrassed to remind the captain or guide that it is in the whale's interest to leave them in peace. 

Love Songs

It is believed that the eerie and moving underwater serenade, made up of recurring themes and phrases, which are sometimes repeated for hours, are only sung by the males.  These songs probably signal the amorous intentions of the male singing and at the same time warn other males.

Strangely, they all sing the same basic rendition.  Each year a new serenade, loosely based on the previous year's, is developed when migration starts to the tropics.
 

Whale Song #1
Whale Song #3
Whale Song #5

Whale Song #2
Whale Song #4
 

To hear them you need a hydrophone, although if the singing whale is very close, you would be able to hear it through the hull of the boat.  But as the whale watching regulations require that the engine is always left on idle - as a gentle reminder to the whales that a boat is present - this is not possible in the Bay of Samana.

An endangered species.

It is of interest to note that although the humpback whales were over hunted in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they were always safe in Dominican waters.

Since 1955, the humpback has been officially protected from commercial hunting by the International Whaling Commission, and is classified endangered in the U.S.  There are perhaps only 10,000 humpbacks of the North Atlantic breed.


 

 

Updated January 2016