Sperm Whales Snorkel Trip - Dominica January 3-10 2024 Trip Report
Reported by: Cindi LaRaia
Starring the Sperm Whales; with Marie Tartar, Steve Eilenberg, Greg Rothman, Julie and Danny Kao. Cindi LaRaia tour leader!
How do you describe one of the most memorable Sperm whale encounters ever experienced?
This trip to Dominica was off the charts in every way! I do believe in Karma and she was with us all every step of the way!
We arrived on the stunning island of Dominica, one of the most beautiful Caribbean islands with its tall mountains, rivers and rainforests!
This island is called the Nature Island and for good reason. It's beautiful! 365 rivers, one for every day of the year. So many gorgeous waterfalls with world class hiking! A very active volcanic island with the Boiling lake hike as proof.
We stayed at Hotel The Champs, a lovely small boutique hotel up the hill with a beautiful view of the ocean and bay! Owner Lise and her friendly staff are warm and inviting.
We had Speedy the famous Taxi driver for the 7 days look after our every need!
Our Sperm Whale operator / whale whisperer extraordinaire Pernell Francis did his magic for us! He started this 18 years ago getting to know the different whale family groups and watched them grow. Many of them know and recognize him when he gets into the water!
He has a directional hydrophone with several listening points. They all seemed to be in the south of the island this trip. So off we go when he would hear the clicking vocalization of the whales! 🐋
He can distinguish where they are; if still deep feeding on Giant Squid at 3000 feet or on their way up! He can hear how many whales may be in the group! Some were single, sometimes 2, other times entire families!! He can count all the different whales in one group from the hydrophone. Remarkable!
I chose this time of year as the big males come in to mate from January until early April! This was my purpose on this trip to see a big male which he said can grow up to 65 feet fully grown! WOW!!
The first 2 days we met different whales as single or in pairs. We had many jumps and swims!! Took us a little while to get our finning legs in fast motion.
Some whales are chill and let us photograph them at close range and others decide to go shallow if they are not in the mood to play.
Sometimes there may be too many boats around, there are whale watching boats and whale swim boats. For the most part, we lucked out and had the whales to ourselves!!
Pernell would find them every time at the surface after he located them on the hydrophone. He would expertly get the boat in position and 3 of us would jump first, with the others to follow upstream as they swam by.
This worked well. Some had big underwater camera wide angle housings, which means too many humans in the pictures!
At times it's good to show perspective:).
On day 3 we had an extraordinary encounter with 3 different whale families, for a total of 15 whales at the same time! We jumped in, looked down and before our eyes there were whales of every size just below us, looking like a squadron of whales! That term seems more appropriate than a pod since this was something rare and unusual!
This is what BBC film crews wait years for!! Here they were, this incredible sight below us! I was speechless, I couldn't even cry. I am STILL trying to absorb this moment and the ensuing emotions that are trapped inside of me! The visuals of this will stay etched in my memory forever!!
We all had our own whales to photograph, interact with and me talking to them as usual :)!
Watching them with several babies, one very small calf and yes the bigger males were there also!!
The babies have to come up more often to breathe. They accepted us into their world! We stayed with them a long time! Once they started to move, we made several jumps with them.
Babies and calves can suckle with aunties and any female who is lactating. It's an incredible system that works. These are highly social animals. We heard lots of clicking which was incredible! I want to speak ʿsperm whaleʾ and know what they were saying about us 😊!!
Often the whales would open their mouths which was great for images as they are gray blobs otherwise! They remind me of elephants, which are my favorite animal in Africa. They behave similarly, protecting the very young, with the matriarch the leader of the pod.
We were so close to them, the interactions between them when they are 'socializing' is like being a voyeur!
I think this mouthing we observed is some kind of affection, it was beautiful! They turn and often show their bellies, they look deep into your soul! The younger ones like to turn and pose and make circles! Greg imitated them and 2 came very close to him!
We also observed them resting or sleeping, they go vertical in the water under the surface, quite an interesting site to see!
The most fun is when they socialize close together, there was a teenager or sub-adult male that was showing off his 'maleness' we saw him for a couple days with his family. Very fun to watch him!
Another time I was above several whales when they decided to surface all at the same time! It happened so fast I had no warning they were just there; I was engulfed!!! I felt helpless as I could not get out of their way. They lifted me out of the water, I was literally on a bed of giant whales! I kept saying "I'm sorry, I'm sorry"! I did not want to hurt them and unsure how they would feel about me being on top of them!! I peered down and there was the mommy's eye looking at me 1 foot away as I was laying on top of 3 of them! Their skin is so very silky soft!
They were remarkably gentle with me, I could have been hurt accidentally if they were startled. Instead, eventually they separated enough so I could slip away. This was hands down the most incredible experience I have ever had in the ocean realm and time with whales! Thank you Universe for this beautiful encounter that will most likely never happen again!🙏🐋💙
As the days went on, we saw whales every day for 5 days, the length of the permit I held! We had more incredible encounters and experiences! Everyone had their special times with these gorgeous whales!
We also saw bigger males which was my goal for this trip and SO MUCH more!!!
We were lucky charms! Everything about our 7 nights on the island was pure magic!
I feel extremely privileged to have shared this experience with friends who also felt as I did! We were in awe, difficult to express ourselves as the emotional feelings are primal and deep!
All the stars were in alignment and karma was on our side!
Even Pernell was surprised; we were 5 for 5!! 5 days of whales 🐋 on permit!
This is extremely rare! None of us expected this, this trip exceeded all expectations!
We did some beautiful hikes after some whale days. We had a free day before flying out and partially hiked the Syndicate trail and the falls! Absolutely stunning in the beautiful rainforest!
What an island! What a trip! 5 stars all the way!
Thank you 🙏 everyone for making our time on Dominica special!
With love and gratitude!