Those who know me would probably agree that I am no braggart. Sometimes I have even been criticized for being a bit too humble. Shouting about why we are the best, the greatest, whatever, is not a natural behavior for me, I prefer to let the results speak for themselves. But when it comes to the subject of why swimming with the humpback whales on Silver Bank with Conscious Breath Adventures is the ultimate, ethical wildlife experience, I have plenty to say!
If you are a nature and animal-lover and are contemplating a trip to swim with whales, anywhere in the world, asking some questions about safety and wellbeing of both the whales and swimmers is essentially important. It has to be done right if guests want maximum results with the bare minimum impact. Through a combination of elements the Silver Bank is the premier whaleswimming destination on the planet; I firmly believe that. So, in this post I’ve summarized our top ten reasons to choose the Silver Bank as a destination. I save one of the best for last. Contact us if you have any you want to add, or if you have any questions about any of them.
During the season the waters on and around the Silver Bank, part of the Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic, are home to 3,000-5,000 North Atlantic humpback whales. It is the largest concentration of humpbacks found anywhere in the North Atlantic Ocean. This abundance of whales gives many opportunities to observe spectacular behaviors or join the whales in the water. More opportunity is better for both the whales and our guests. It allows us to take our time and be much more selective about which animals we interact with, choosing only receptive whales. We can move on without imposing ourselves knowing that another opportunity will soon come. This is very important as it keeps us from disturbing whales while saving our guests’ time and energy for more promising situations.
Due to a fortunate combination of geography and management, fewer than 600 visitors come to the Silver Bank every season. On a planet with 7+ billion people, that is an incredibly small number. This combined with the great number of whales means there is a lower impact with greater opportunity overall. In fact, of the many thousands of square miles that make up the Sanctuary, our area of operation is less than 40 square miles. The vast majority of the protected area and its whales are not visited at all.
Do to the combination of distance offshore and good management, there are virtually no casual visitors or unauthorized recreational boaters in the area. Being 75 nautical miles from port, across open waters, it is not practical for small boats to try to come out for a day to “give it a go”. Thanks to steadfast management by the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of the Environment & Natural Resources, only three commercial ecotour companies, including Conscious Breath Adventures, are permitted in the Sanctuary. Unauthorized visits by pleasure boats are not allowed. Taken together, this means less boat traffic to disturb the whales. More importantly, there are no inexperienced swimmers using disruptive approach techniques that disturb the whales. Any in-water activities are under the direction of very experienced guides who know how to minimize impact while maximizing results.
Since 1986, the Silver Bank has been part of the Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic, under the jurisdiction of their Ministry of the Environment & Natural Resources. During that time the Ministry has maintained strict control of the Sanctuary, consistently limiting the number of boats and visitors. They have done this against the economic temptation to allow more fee-paying operators and visitors. They also revisit and revise rules regularly to improve visitor safety and the wellbeing of the whales. The Sanctuary has earned a reputation as one of, if not the best managed whale-swimming destinations on the globe.
This stable management of the Sanctuary has created a solid foundation for the three permitted operators, including Conscious Breath Adventures, to build their organizations. This has led to a remarkably stable group of people working on the Silver Bank. We have gained an understanding of the location and animals, as well as mutual respect and camaraderie. This can only come from a decade or more of experience. 2020 will be Capt Gene’s 18th season on the Silver Bank, the 13th as head of Conscious Breath Adventures.
The duration of the operations means that your guides have decades of cumulative direct experience working with these whales in this small corner of the ocean. Our guides have an intimate knowledge of the geography, the weather, the sea conditions and the whales allowing us to produce the best results with the greatest safety possible. We recognize some of the whales on sight. It is not an exaggeration to say we know some of these whales and their individual personalities.
Part of Conscious Breath Adventures’ operational ethic is that our guests should go home more educated and knowledgeable about the whales and their environment than when they arrived. It is our goal to create impassioned ambassadors for the whales. We do that through our educational program of evening presentations, discussions and ongoing dialogs throughout the week. When someone visits the Silver Bank for a week, they are surrounded by humpback whales 24 hours a day. Combined with the incredibly powerful experience of meeting the whales eye-to-eye in the water, it is literally an immersive educational adventure. It is impossible to not learn about the whales and be affected on some level.
With seawater temperatures of 75 º-80 º F (23 º-27 ºC), the Silver Bank is a pleasant place to be when winter weather rules farther to the north! Most guests are comfortable in a 3mm full suit or shorty, some may want a bit more, but some folks are fine in just a bathing suit.
The Dominican Republic has a travel advantage being located between North and South America and Europe. While the environmental impact of air travel cannot be denied, reducing the number of stops and the distance traveled does help reduce emissions. There are non-stop flights available from cities in the eastern U.S. and many major European cities. Buses and shared cars are available to get around on the island and we work actively to set up ride shares wherever possible.
And finally, one of the most important reasons to swim with the humpback whales on the Silver Bank is the hardest to express in words. It is more of a feeling. The journey can be a transformational, almost spiritual experience. When someone makes a plan to travel to the Silver Bank they obviously have an interest in the humpbacks. Their interest is rewarded. The Silver Bank is a major gathering place for the whales. This is their home and we are rare visitors. We are literally surrounded by whales for the entire time we are there. Usually a guest just needs to spend a few minutes looking to see a whale, near or far. With that many huge intelligent creatures so close there is an energy about the place that surrounds and permeates everything we do. Like visiting a vibrant city for the first time, or the central landmark of a major religion, there is a special buzz that charges every visit. Sometimes the energy can be dramatic, as when rowdy males are fighting over a female, an awesome display of the drive for life. It can be casual and familial, as when a nurturing mother and calf sleep next to our mothership for the night, as if we are on her couch in her living room. Or the energy can physically manifest when you are immersed in the bone-shaking power of a singing humpback whale.
Most powerful of all is when the energy has a quality that guests often describe as spiritual. This is when an intelligent animal, as large as a bus, wild and free in its natural environment, chooses to approach and interact with you in the water of its own free will. Not just aimlessly swim past but circle to look you in the eye, one of the most intimate connections possible between species. What are they thinking, why do they care about us? It is a incredibly powerful connection that brings visitors laughter or tears, all of joy. It is impossible not to be affected on some deep, enriching level.
Our guests say swimming with whales can be a life-changing experience. I’d have to agree, look what it did to me! Meeting the whales on the Silver Bank dramatically changed the course of my life, so it’s hard for me to try to crystalize the many things that make a cruise to see and swim with the humpback whales on the Silver Bank such a special trip. I do hope you will get in touch if you have anything you would like to discuss, or have questions about the experience. There is so much more to share and I am always happy to talk about the whales!