Nudibranchs and shrimp are trendy. But one can hardly call these small critters our kindred spirits. Whales and dolphins, on the other flipper, care for their young, have complex social lives, are our size, and frequently much, much bigger. They are undeniably intelligent. People globally feel a special affinity for the most impressive of life forms, alien yet familiar.
Whether blessed few compelled to leave terra firma whenever possible– can venture into Ocean’s realm to fulfill several species of marine mammals up close and personal. Snorkeling, rather than SCUBA, is generally preferred and oftentimes required, means of enjoying in-water time together with this charismatic megafauna. Snorkeling allows one to enter the water more easily and quietly, and get back on the ship quickly. With tank, BCD, and regulator one is streamlined, offering a significant benefit when swimming. It is also easier for boat operators to keep their eye on snorkelers.
Here follows the first of two installments of an epic cetacean roundup where we will have a look at a total of ten species of whales and dolphins, where and when to find them, and the best way to experience such life-changing experiences.
Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)
There likely are far more chances to swim with this heavyweight celebrity than any other whale species. Tonga and the Dominican Republic (on the Silver Bank) would be the two most well-known locations. Both nations have had a swim with whale programs in place for decades. Winter and early spring are subway time: July through November at Tonga and January through early April from the Dominican Republic. Encounters occur in the whales’ calving grounds, providing snorkelers with heartwarming perspectives of 35 to 50-foot-long moms and their newborns which typically measure 12 to 15-foot-long as infants. When the mom is comfortable in the presence of individuals, the pair could “settle” and hover five to 30 feet under the surface. You’ll likely find the two-ton bundle of pleasure napping under its mom’s chin or tucked under her airplane-wing-like pectoral flipper. If fortune is on your side, you may witness infant nursing. It’ll revert to the surface every few minutes to breathe.
Orcas (Orcinus orca)
Why would anyone traveling to the Arctic circle, in winter, with the intent of submerging in seawater just above the freezing point? For an opportunity to swim with the sea’s apex predator, of course. Countless killer whales feeding in the fjords of northern Norway between late October and February prove an irresistible attraction for hardcore whale lovers seeking an extreme adventure amidst stunning scenery straight out of the Viking film collection. Some people wear drysuitsothers use specialized wetsuits but agree that the delight of an in-water encounter with orcas makes you, at least briefly, forget about the chill. Due to the potentially harsh weather, super low light levels, along with the wily methods of the orcas–that they could be here 1 day and gone the next–underwater photography can be a real challenge, so maintain your gear easy and streamlined and make certain to focus on what’s really important, capturing the magic with your mind’s eye rather than stressing more cameras.
Dwarf Minke Whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata subspecies)
Ordinarily a solitary species, scientists are not certain why they aggregate on the northern GBR’s Ribbon Reefs, particularly at classic scuba diving sites like Lighthouse Bommie and Steve’s Bommie, but they postulate this might be a location for subadults to meet and greet one another for pre-breeding courtship. Here is the only famous minke aggregation site on earth, and by far and away your very best bet to find this gorgeous, inquisitive, mini-sized leviathan underwater.
Hector’s Dolphins (Cephalorhynchus hectori)
The smallest oceanic dolphin at less than five feet in length and 130 lbs in weight, this endemic species resides exclusively in New Zealand’s coastal waters where it favors shallow bays and estuaries. It’s classified as endangered by the IUCN, with approximately 15,000 individuals alive now. Entanglement and drowning in fishing nets in past decades were the major culprit responsible for their decrease in the estimated population of 50,000 in 1970. An excellent place to reliably find them now is Akaroa about the South Island’s Banks Peninsula. A 90-minute drive from Christchurch, in which a marine mammal sanctuary can help to deliver a haven for its handsomely marked black, white and grey dolphins with their diagnostic Mickey Mouse ears’ rounded dorsal fins. Hector’s dolphins are also known as “Tutumairekurai” which means special sea dweller’ in the native Maori language.
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins (Stenella frontalis)
Swimming with wild dolphins in the warm, clear waters of the Bahamas is another of the World Ocean’s top cetacean encounters. For over 30 decades, scientists have been studying (and tourists frolicking) with this extended family pod numbering 100 odd members. Experts can recognize many human dolphins by their particular markings and pigmentation (spotting gains with age) and even signature behaviors. Stenella frontalis primarily feeds at night on squid and flying fish in deeper water, and devotes daytime hours resting, socializing, and of course, playing over the shallow sandbanks. Even though sightings are possible yearlong, spring through early autumn is usually considered best. The majority of the action in recent years has been focused on the island of Bimini. Operations comprise land-based day operators at the Bahamas and a liveaboard boat from Florida.