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Humpback Whale tale
Our cruise ship anchored in Samana, which is a peninsula of the Dominican Republic. We arrived at 7.30am and were excited because today was our shore excursion to hopefully view Humpback Whales. These whales have been wintering near Samana for centuries; they migrate in their thousands from the North Atlantic to savor the warm, clear waters, and to mate. (Cave drawings made by aboriginal inhabitants near the SamanaPeninsula depict the spouting whales long before the arrival Columbus!) Humpback whales can easily be identified by their stocky bodies with obvious humps and black dorsal coloring. The head and lower jaw are covered with knobs called tubercles, which are actually hair follicles and are characteristic of the species.
Our Whale watching expedition was an experience of a lifetime. We gathered on the dock and our tour guide led us to a large open-air power boat. There were eight of us; excited tourists armed with cameras and sunscreen. Once we were all seated and had our emergency briefing, we set off. Within minutes we were going fast, speeding along, occasionally bouncing heavily on the beautiful ocean. The spray hit our faces and we screamed with the cold, clinging onto the rails for dear life. We were warned the trip could be rough so some of the passengers had taken sea-sick medication. I didn’t need it. I love the rough sea! We saw Dolphin riding along side our boat; normally that would be a thrill, but we were looking for bigger mammals today!
We traveled at speed for over forty minutes and suddenly ahead, we saw it; the tail fin of a Humpback whale disappearing in the distance. (This long black and white tail fin, can be up to a third of the whale’s body length, and has unique patterns which enable individual whales to be recognized). The boat slowed down and we waited and watched; hushed with awe. The whale flung its huge body out of the water, almost like it was standing straight but tipped back, and then threw itself backward creating a huge splash. The tour guide explained this was called ‘breaching.’ (Humpback whales frequently breach, throwing two thirds or more of their bodies out of the water and then splashing down on their backs). He continued to rise and flop down into the water and performed an impressive acrobatic display for us. The unique underwater vocal styling of this male was so clear it was hauntingly beautiful and strangely familiar; it was clear there were other whales around that he was calling to, although we only saw this one. The ‘performance’ lasted for approximately 10 minutes, but time stood still for us.
I am now completely in love with this amazing creature. When we got back home after the trip, I went and read up a little more about these wonderful sea giants. One species of whale, the great Blue whale, is the largest creature that has ever lived. They are larger than the largest recorded dinosaur! Blue whales can grow to be more than 100 feet long and weigh more than 150 tons, but most whales are not as big. They belong to a family of marine mammals known as Cetaceans. Unlike fish, they are air-breathing, warm-blooded mammals. They give birth to live young and nurse them on their milk. Cetaceans play an important role in the health and well-being of the whole marine ecosystem. They are completely adapted to life in the water, and breathe through blowholes on top of their heads.
Sadly, these magnificent creatures are dying by the thousands and have become an endangered species. Japanese and other pilot whalers go out daily to trap and kill these wonderful creatures. However, they are now in violation of the new movement called “Save the Whales.” These people have been able to keep a space of water safe from the whalers, and they patrol it daily. There are other organizations to save our whales; including “Adopt a Whale.” ~ Now that I have had the pleasure of seeing one close up and listening to his beautiful, haunting call; I think I will adopt one.
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