go to "make out"
on photos for enlargements
Two males sing hypnotic melodies, vying for the female’s attention.
They pursue her relentlessly, each hoping the other will give up
and go home. When neither does, and the flirtatious female fails
to choose between them, the two suitors proceed to settle the matter
like … whales. Huge, 30- to 40-ton humpback whales.
Engaged in a primal game of sexual one-upmanship, the male humpbacks
plunge beneath the water’s surface. They might karate-chop
one another with 15-foot-long flippers. Perhaps they’ll slam
into each other like humongous torpedoes. Or, with a flick of its
powerful tail, one whale might slap the kelp out of its rival.
winter, 10,000 to 12,000 humpback whales migrate from the North Atlantic
to the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Most come
here to mate. Pregnant females give birth to calves conceived during
the previous mating season. But it’s the fertile females that
draw the most attention. A single female humpback might be simultaneously
pursued by as many as 20 hopeful males.
No one knows why North Atlantic humpbacks make the long, arduous
trek from as far away as Iceland. But they’ve been making the
same trip for centuries. Strangely enough, they don’t eat during
their winter-long holiday in the Caribbean. Before leaving the bountiful
North Atlantic, humpbacks gorge themselves on small fish and long
shrimp-like crustaceans called “krill.” They eat 1.5
tons a day (the equivalent of 12,000 McDonald’s hamburgers)
and pack on 6 to 8 inches of fat. The “blubber” serves
as nourishment for up to 6 months.
Having survived a journey of up to 3,000 miles—having eluded
hazardous ships, deadly Orcas (killer whales), and large, drifting,
commercial fishing nets that tangle and kill everything in their
path—the humpbacks rendezvous at Silver Bank, a 1,900-square
mile reef system that lies 70 miles northwest of Puerto Plata. A
few miles to the east, Navidad Bank is another popular gathering
point. But Samaná Bay is the most intriguing, if not the most
picturesque destination. It’s one of the best spots in the
world to watch whales in their natural habitat.
A tranquil inlet walled in on one side by a mountainous peninsula
and dotted by a tiny lush island, “Samaná Bay is the
world’s largest singles bar.” Kim Beddall makes this
claim to a capacity crowd of 60 hopeful whale watchers aboard the
Victoria II. We laugh at the notion of whales getting “picked
up” like humans. But this is precisely what they come here
“During the course of a season, perhaps 2,000 humpbacks will
cruise through Samaná bay,” says Ms. Beddall, a marine
mammal specialist. They come to check out the action for a few days.” Then,
like twenty-somethings eager for a more happening bar, they’ll
swim over to Silver Bank or Navidad.
As our double-decker tour boat chugs toward the outer bay, we scan
the horizon for whale spouts. Ms. Beddall dispenses facts that make
us all the more eager to spot our first humpback. “They swim
in competitive groups … males fight for the right to escort
a female … newborn calves consume up to 50 gallons of mother’s
milk per day … calves grow at a rate of 4 pounds per hour,
100 pounds a day.”
“Whale at nine o’clock!” Someone shouts from behind
me. I turn in that direction, as does everyone. A lone column of
is barely visible against the pale blue sky.
The engine rumbles. The boat turns. We chug toward the whale-made
geyser. Two humpbacks spout in rapid succession. One large. One small.
Mother and child. But as we move closer, the whales disappear.
Soon, we get up close and personal with perhaps two dozen whales.
About 50 yards away from the boat, a lone humpback pokes its shiny
black snout from the water. Its enormous black back bends gracefully,
appearing to form a “hump” from which the whales get
Another whale blows a 30-foot spout, then dives, like an attack submarine,
displacing tons of sea water as it submerges. Two leviathan creatures
lift their tails high above the water. It’s as if they’re
showing off the vivid, white tail markings which are as specific
to individual whales as fingerprints are to humans.
The eerily beautiful song of the humpback—equal parts trumpet
blast and lamented wail—accompany the sightings like a musical
At one point, Ms. Beddall points out one, two, three humpback whales—two
males in eager pursuit of a female. The males submerge, presumably
to fight over copulation rights.
The battle soon ends. The winner and his female companion will likely
swim into the Samaná sunset. But one thing still puzzles me.
How do 30-ton mammals make out?