Every year, Humpback whales in the North Atlantic make a long migration down to the Caribbean to have their calves in warm, calm water. Many of these whales go to one particular area called the Silver Banks near the Dominican Republic. Jonathan spends a week in the Silver Banks filming whales underwater, and you won’t believe how close he gets to the whales, and the exceptional behaviors he observes!
Yet ironically they are one of the most difficult animals to see and film. Normally Humpbacks are found in the cool and rich waters of the temperate seas. But every year for a short period of time, Humpback whales from the North Atlantic migrate to the warm and clear waters of the Caribbean to mate and give birth.
And one of the largest gathering places for Humpbacks in the world is the Silver Banks, in the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic occupies half the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean sea. Just north of the island is a shallow area called the Silver Banks—that’s where the whales are found.
During the summer, Humpbacks live in the cool, murky waters of the North Atlantic where there are huge schools of small fish to eat. They migrate two thousand miles down to the Silver Banks in the winter so they can have their calves in warm, calm, protected tropical water. This is the best place to film them underwater because the ocean is so clear.
Soon we depart from the marina and begin a 90 mile trip north over the open Caribbean Sea, under a beautiful blue sky. Our journey takes about 6 hours.
When we reach the Silver Banks, I can see why this area is popular with the whales. Isolated coral reefs dot the entire area like a minefield.
They provide protection from waves, but the water between the reefs is still 80-100 feet deep, providing the depth that large animals like whales need.
Once again I silently slip into the water. There’s no way I’m going to sneak up on a whale—they know we’re here. I’m just trying not to frighten them with a big splash.
I look around to find the whale. You might be surprised how well they blend in to the bottom from a distance.
And there she is, about 40 feet below. Her calf is hiding below her.
Soon the calf sees me in the water and comes out for a look. This looks promising! The calf appears small compared to his mother, but he is larger than a minivan. He only looks small because his mom is larger than a school bus!
The calf takes a quick look at me and decides to go back down to his mom.
But pretty soon mom needs a breath and starts heading to the surface. As he passes me, he does a barrel roll, just for fun.
Eventually his curiosity gets the best of him and he finally swims over for a look at me! He comes so close that his fluke is only a foot from my lens!
And then he comes back for another pass! I can feel the water move as his fluke passes by!
The next morning, we load the Zodiac again and hit the water, looking for whale action.
We see a mother and calf resting nearby, so Mario and I go in to see if the calf will play with us!
When we approach, the mother is rolling around, while her calf is staying on the other side.
Soon the calf gets curious and comes over to check me out.
Then mom comes over too. She gives me a look, takes a breath and dives down after her calf.
Later in the day I come across a couple engaged in a Valentine dance. The female is hovering vertically in the water with her flippers out to the sides, to beckon the male over.
She has juvenile jacks, a kind of fish, nibbling on the loose skin on the front of her rostrum. I wonder if she finds them annoying, like flies buzzing around a person’s head, or if she enjoys the cleaning she is getting.
She doesn’t mind my presence at all—I float right over her head and she just hangs right below me, with the complete attention of the male Humpback.
It’s a remarkable spectacle to float above this whale and watch her relax, with tiny fish nibbling on her nose!
Later, having witnessed an incredible spectacle, Mario and I return to the boat.