Carusos of the deep... ballenas jorobadas

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They come here to give birth... It is a unique show, not to be missed!

Ballenas Jorobadas” (humpback whales) have been wintering near Samana for centuries. Cave drawings made by the aboriginal inhabitants of Los Haitises National Park long before Columbus arrived depict the spouting whales. And Columbus saw them too, as the log of his travels along the north coast in 1493 makes clear.

Thousands of humpback whales from the North Atlantic migrate to the waters of the Dominican Republic each winter to mate and give birth. Their most popular winter rendezvous is Silver Bank, the 3,000-square-kilometer reef system approximately 70 miles north east of Puerto Plata. But from there many circulate to other popular areas like humans do at singles bars! One of these gathering places is Samana Bay. More than 1,500 humpbacks visit the bay, with as many as 300 present at any given time during mating season.

The World Wildlife Fund considers Samana Bay one of the best places in the world to watch whales. It offers something for everyone—the outer bay is where you might find aggressive males competing for the favors of willing females, and the sheltered inner bay is one of the most important humpback nurseries in the world.


About Humpback Whales

The "humpback" whale - Megaptera novaeangliae - belongs to the family of cetaceans.
It is estimated that there are over 10,000-15,000 humpback whales world-wide. Humpback whales are an endangered species.

Although their general shape resembles that of a fish, humpback whales are mammals just like humans, and exhibit a number of traits common to all mammals including the following: they are warm blooded, they breathe air, they bear live young and nurse them with milk

Humpback whales have a life expectancy of 45-50 years.

Humpbacks are air-breathing mammals belonging to the group known as “great whales”. Adults measure 40-50 ft / 12-15 m and weigh 30-40 tons. Babies measure 10-15 ft / 3-4.5 m and weigh 1.5-2 tons. When born they have little blubber (fat) to protect them from the cold water awaiting them in the north but they grow quickly on the rich milk provided by their mother. Each day they drink 50 gallons of milk that is 50-60% fat and gain 100 pounds, much of which is blubber. By comparison, the milk of a human mother is 2% fat.

Adult humpbacks are black or dark gray with white patches on the flippers, the belly, and the underside of the tail. At first glance all look alike, but there are differences. The black and white pigmentation on the underside of the tail flukes is the most common means of distinguishing one from another. No two have the same markings, enabling whale scientists to identify humpbacks in the same way humans are by their fingerprints. Permanent scars, dorsal fin shape and other unique markings also help distinguish one from another.

Humpbacks travel close to the surface and parallel to it, and then jerk upwards at full speed to perform a breach. In a typical breach, the whale clears the water at an angle of about 30� to the horizontal. Around 90% of the body clears the water before the whale turns to land on its back or side. To achieve 90% clearance, a humpback whale needs to leave the water at a speed of 29 km/h.

Not surprisingly as a whale repeatedly breaches, it becomes steadily more tired, with less of its body clearing the water.

The reasons why a whale breaches the water are unclear although it has been observed that they are more likely to breach when they are in groups. It could therefore have social significance,for example showing some sort of dominance, courting behaviour etc. It is also possible that the loud "smack" upon re-entering the surface is useful for stunning or scaring fish.

Lobtailing is the act of a whale or dolphin lifting their tail fin [fluke] out of the water and then bringing it down onto the surface of the water hard and fast in order to make a loud slap. It is widely believed that the use for this is to scare fish. As the sound of a lobtail can be heard underwater several hundred metres from the site of a slap, the loud noise may cause fish to become frightened, thus compressing the school, and making them easier prey.

No whale species is more active than the humpback, causing Herman Melville in Moby Dick to call them “the most lighthearted and gamesome of all the whales.”

And the breeding season is when they are the most animated. Among the behaviors that delight whale watchers are:
Breaching: Whale builds momentum swimming underwater, then launches itself into the air, exposing some or all of its body before crashing back onto the water’s surface.

Flippering: Whale rolls on its side or back, raises one or both flippers, then slaps it/them against the surface.
Rolling: Horizontal on the surface, the whale rolls between 45 and 60 degrees, perhaps slapping the water with its flippers.
Surface Active Group: Two to 20 rowdy males compete aggressively to mate with a fertile female. They may breach, slam heads and bodies, and even draw blood.


Their song

The humpback whale is also known for its haunting melody, a variety of chirps, yups, grunts and eooooos that form a “song”. Jacques Cousteau called them the “Carusos of the deep”. Whales can hear the songs for up to 20 miles; humans can eavesdrop with an underwater listening device called a hydrophone.

Both male and female humpback whales vocalize, however only males produce the long, loud, complex "songs" for which the species is famous. Each song consists of several sounds in a low register that vary in amplitude and frequency, and typically lasts from 10 to 20 minutes. Humpbacks may sing continuously for more than 24 hours. Cetaceans have no vocal cords, so whales generate their song by forcing air through their massive nasal cavities.

Whales within a large area sing the same song. All North Atlantic humpbacks sing the same song, and those of the North Pacific sing a different song. Each population's song changes slowly over a period of years without repeating.

Scientists are unsure of the purpose of whale song. Only males sing, suggesting that one purpose is to attract females. However, many of the whales observed to approach a singer are other males, and results in conflict. Singing may therefore be a challenge to other males. Some scientists have hypothesized that the song may serve an echo locative function. During the feeding season, humpbacks make altogether different vocalizations for herding fish into their bubble nets.

All these behaviors also occur absent potential mates. This indicates that they are probably a more general communication tool. Scientists hypothesize that singing may keep migrating populations connected. Some observers report that singing begins when competition for a female ends.


Watching whales

Samana Bay is a marine sanctuary by decree of the Dominican government. Whale watching tours must, by law, protect the whales within this sanctuary.

Among the rules are: limits on the number of vessels that can observe a whale at the same time; the minimum distance that must be maintained between vessels and whales (unless a curious whale approaches the boat); speed of travel through the whale area; and the length of time a vessel may spend watching an individual whale. Additionally, no vessel may permit passengers to swim with the whales (except professionals, as in the video below). Because captains sometimes violate the regulations, thinking their clients will be happier getting a closer look at the whales, passengers are asked to insist that the regulations be adhered to. The regulations are important and the support of everyone is needed to not only protect the whales, but to ensure their return to Samana Bay in future years.

The whales spend over 90% of their life under water. So, please ... patience!

To show you how beautiful the humpback whales are, we present here a short video made by professionals in Samana bay:



Thanks to the efforts of organizations such as the International Whaling Commission (IWC), humpback whales along with other species, have received world protection since 1966. However, there is still a long way to go for full recovery. The world population of humpbacks has reached approximately 40,000 or about 30-35% of its original levels. Humpbacks can be easily observed, either at their feeding or breeding grounds. Whale watching has become an increasingly popular worldwide activity, and the Dominican Republic is fortunate to have one of the largest and best humpback breeding sanctuaries in the world.

The Dominican government enforces strict whale protection laws and guidelines to ensure the safety and conservation of these wonderful animals. Whale watching can be a thrilling experience for anyone interested in nature and the preservation of our natural resources. We must continue to respect and protect these incredibly gentle giants so we can enjoy them for a long time to come!


Observing whales are a privilege and not a right.

We must treat them as our dear guests in our home…

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