Being within arms reach of a humpback whale is up there on most scuba divers bucket lists. How about spending some time with a newborn calf while mum takes a well-deserved rest?
Humpback whales are one of the largest animals on the planet and seeing these creatures up close and personal is nothing short of spectacular. Just hearing these awe-inspiring mammals singing underwater is incredible. The sound reverberates in your ribs and you can feel your whole body shaking as their song resonates around the ocean. Whilst relatively little is known about the complex language of humpback whales it has been linked to mating rituals, as male humpbacks are the only ones that sing.
Humpback whales are a migratory species. They spend summer feeding near the poles, and then head for warmer water to breed and have their young. It is during the breeding season that we can have incredible encounters with these whales, when the warm turquoise waters they have travelled so far to reach become a place for them to mate and calve.
There are only a few places where you can swim with Humpback Whales, and some of the most popular are located in Tonga and the Dominican Republic. As different geographical populations of whales have breeding seasons during different times of the year, the place you choose to visit to swim with these gentle giants will have a different corresponding ideal time to plan your trip. One thing is constant however, and that is the experience of swimming with humpback whales will be one you treasure for a lifetime.
When you do select a time and vessel, your on-board guides will be well trained in whale-speak, and know when it is and isn’t safe to hop in the water with humpbacks. Most areas that offer whale swimming will have a select few operators with permits, ensuring the whales are undisturbed and your experience is intimate. Every whale you have the chance to swim with has a different personality. Some are shy and disappear into the blue with one graceful manoeuvre of their fluked tail, and others will quite happily allow you to spend up to half an hour swimming with them. Calves tend to stick close to their mothers, and it is not uncommon to come across a female whale who looks like she needs five minutes of peace from her newborn, and is more than happy to have a rest while the curious calf playfully swims over to inspect you.
It is rare for humpback whale swims to take place directly off a liveaboard, and almost all operators will have a smaller, quieter boat that guests will ride on. When you hear the noise of air being expelled from a humpbacks blowhole as it surfaces nearby there is a flurry of movement as everyone scrambles to grab their snorkel and fins. On the skippers signal, you slowly lower yourself in to the water and make your way towards the whale.
When you first see the shape of a humpback whale coming out of the blue as you head towards it in your snorkel and fins, the sheer size of them is overwhelming. Everyone knows that whales are big animals (humpbacks are roughly the same size as a bus) but nothing can prepare you for the feeling of coming in close proximity with such an enormous and gentle creature. You can see every barnacle, every groove along her body and every tiny detail of this magnificent animal. As cliché as it sounds, words can’t describe the feeling that your filled with as you lie on the surface of the water, watching this whale watching you with only the sound of your exhilarated heart beat pounding in your chest. Time becomes non-existent when you are underwater with humpback whales, and as she moves off into the distance all you can think about is when you can get back in and do it all over again.
Click the link to find out more about liveaboards that offer whale swimming in the Dominican Republic.