One of the benefits of being in the water with humpback whales is that it makes me appear svelte by comparison. That’s not the primary reason I’m snorkeling with humpbacks in the waters of the Silver Bank off the Dominican Republic, but it’s a bonus I’ll gladly accept after catching a reflection of myself in my form fitting wetsuit.
This is one of the few places in the world where tourists can get in the water with these huge marine mammals. You don’t really swim with humpbacks, they’re way to fast for even Michael Phelps to keep pace. What happens is the whales spend a good portion of the day in the Silver Bank just resting. They’ll hang near the bottom napping, but being mammals they must surface every five to twenty minutes to breathe. If you spot a whale, or group of whales, or a mother & calf, moving in that sleep-breathe pattern, then you can get in the water and snorkel near them. If the whales are comfortable with your presence they’ll stay in the area.
I was there with Tom Conlin of Aquatic Adventures who has been running trips in the Silver Bank for more than twenty years. He knows how to read humpback behavior as well as anyone and is great at getting people in the water for amazing up close encounters. To me one of the best experiences is being with a mom and a playful calf. The calf in those circumstances will frequently come close out of curiosity and circle the people almost like it wants to play.
I interviewed Tom about the humpbacks of the Silver Bank this week on my radio show, National Geographic Weekend. Part of that interview and some of our whale encounters are in this video.