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Perhaps it's my natural pessimism, but it seems a large part of travel is to see things while you still can.
Bill Bryson-"In a Sunburned Country"

This ain't Sea World! Rather it is one of those extraordinary moments that cannot be planned or predicted. The scene is the Silver Banks, 5,000 square miles of shallow seas north of the Dominican Republic. A whale sanctuary. No ships allowed. And one of only two places in the world where people can frolic in the ocean with humpback whales (the other is Tonga Island in the South Pacific). Several thousand of them are here to spend the winter, calving and mating. And they are putting on a show, breaching, spy-hopping, tail and fin slapping, and singing. I am on a whale research vessel, to photograph the humpbacks while scientists gather their data.

With more trepidation than I have experienced in many previous wildlife encounters, I back-roll into the bounding main. This is snorkeling only. Diving bubbles startle the leviathans, and might make them mad. Needless to say I would rather not.

A mother and calf are resting on the bottom, 50 feet below. I remind myself that humpback whales are gentle giants, but after all big is big. About 50,000 pounds in this case! I have little time to consider options, such as jumping back in the boat, as mom and calf start swimming straight toward me. I lie spread-eagle at the top with some idea of how Jonah must have felt. Now she is near. In fact I can almost touch her! My heart rate must be 200. Then magically, with amazing grace, she slowly turns, makes eye contact, and greets me with an ever so subtle smile. For real. As she eases by her giant pectoral fin misses my face by inches, just as she intended. I knew all along we would be friends. In fact, I name her Grace!


The broad bench between the two sides of a humpback whale's upper jaw is known as the rostrum. These whales have been observed giving their calves "rostrum rides" to the surface so they can breathe. They have rarely been seen doing the same with dolphins, though the purpose of this is not clear. Perhaps play? But this behavior has NEVER been reported in humans. Until this day! The rostrum ride in the above photo was repeated many times over an hour or so as this gentle giant "played" with me and several others. When she was done she swam slowly away, disappearing into the depths, leaving unanswered questions and memories of a lifetime in her wake. (next photo)



© Danny Kimberlin 2015