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 approximately 650 square-mile Silver Bank. During that time up to 5,000 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 humpback whale 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 extended 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 social humpback whale behaviors including a variety of thrilling breaches, pectoral fin slapping, peduncal throws, lobtailing, spyhopping and competitive “rowdy” groups. 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 Behaviors and Mating are Serious Business
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 primary 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 surface 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 just 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 mates’ 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. Our bodies are mostly composed of water, which allows this acoustic force to flow right through. It is not unusual for visitors to experience different resonance frequencies from the song of the humpback whale, with some guests feeling the reverberations in their chest cavities, others in the long bones of their arms or legs. When you close your eyes the music doesn’t come from without, but from within. Imagine a concert where the song literally shakes your bones!