About Humpback Whales
Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are mammals, of the order Cetacea, which includes all whales, dolphins and porpoises. Cetaceans are further divided into the suborders Mysticeti, the baleen whales, which includes the humpback; and Odontoceti, the toothed whales, which includes toothed whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Like all mammals, including man, cetaceans are warm blooded, breathe air, and give birth to live young that they nurse from mammary glands. But unlike man and other terrestrial mammals, cetaceans are conscious breathers, meaning they have to actively choose when to take every breath of their lives.
The Humpback Whale, while not the largest whale in existence, is a large whale, ranging in length from 40 to 50 feet, and weighing in at 35-40 tons. They derive their common name, Humpback Whale, from the distinctive high humping of their back when they dive, and from the pronounced hump at the leading edge of their dorsal fin.
Their Latin species name, Megaptera novaeangliae, translates into "big-winged" (Mega: big; ptera: wing) "New Englander" (nova: new; eangliae: englander). This refers to their unusually long wing-like pectoral fins; and the region where they were first scientifically described in the 1780s, the rich waters of the whaling grounds of New England.
Humpback Whale Behavior
In the northern hemisphere's winter months of January through April, the world's largest congregation of North Atlantic humpback whales occurs in the waters of the Dominican Republic's 300-square-mile Silver Bank. During that time up to 5,000 North Atlantic Humpback Whales gather to calve, court and mate. On the Silver Bank, even experienced whale watchers are often surprised by the sheer number of whales and the variety of behaviors on display.
Having migrated south from rich northern waters provisioned with tons of blubber, the North Atlantic humpback whales do not feed for the duration of their tropical visit. Instead they devote all of their energy to birthing and nursing a new generation of young, or in courting and mating to create the next. The topside observer is treated to a full array of individual and group surface behaviors including a variety of thrilling breaches, pectoral fin slapping, spyhopping, peduncal throws and lobtailing. It is not only possible to witness all these behaviors in a day's excursion, but to have to choose which one to observe more closely!
Humpback Whale Mating is Serious Business
But not all behaviors are playful. Procreation is serious business on the Silver Bank. When the males arrive, their testosterone levels are high and they are eager to find a mate. The presence of a receptive female can lead to competitive rowdy groups as challenging males physically struggle to displace her escort.
These conflicts can be very physical, last for hours, and cover many miles as each bull fights for the favored position at the female's side. Being on the water in a small boat when four to fifteen (or more!) male humpback whales brawl for dominance will redefine your concept of "running with the bulls"!
Encountering Humpbacks in the Water
While the topside displays are spectacular, what brings most visitors to the Silver Bank is the chance to enter the warm waters and experience these humpback whales in their natural environment. Imagine looking into the eye of a playful and curious weeks-old calf while the mother naps fifty feet below. Then imagine the mother surfacing nearby for a breath and, accepting your presence, settling back down to continue her rest.
Or imagine not only watching but participating in two mate's graceful courtship dance once the competition is over and the happy couple pairs off. In this celebration you are audience to 40 ton dancers as they swoop, spin and cavort in an exquisite exhibition of dexterity as they use their long pectoral fins to precisely control their every move.
The Song of the Humpback Whale
If you are truly fortunate, you may have a front row seat to one of the greatest performances on earth, a singing male humpback whale. Imagine listening to the most sophisticated animal song on the planet in an auditorium where you are literally immersed in the music. The power of these songs makes them audible for miles. Composed mostly of water, our bodies allow this acoustic energy to flow right through. It is not unusual for visitors to experience different resonance frequencies from the song of the humpback whale, with some feeling the reverberations in their chest cavities, others in the long bones of their arms or legs. Close your eyes and the music doesn't come from without, but from within. Imagine a concert where the song literally moves you to the core!
Humpback Whales at the Silver Bank
Swimming with humpback
whales in their natural
environment, on their terms,
during a Soft-In-Water
Encounter, is an ultimate
wild animal interaction and
spending a week in this
exceptional sanctuary is a
journey unlike any other.
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About Humpback Whales