When thinking of traveling to the Dominican Republic, many things come to mind – a tropical drink, sandy beaches, upscale, all-inclusive resorts.
An often overlooked fact about the island of Hispaniola is the seasonal prominence of humpback whales off the coast of the Dominican Republic. Between the months of January and March, a portion of the humpback whale population migrates to the warm waters of the Caribbean to find their ideal mate, or give birth to the next generation of humpbacks.
The appropriately named animals play an interesting mating game in the waters of the Samana Bay. The male whales remain on the outskirts of the perimeter, aggressively pursuing the females with posturing and flashy aquatic moves. The available females stay on the inside of this show, waiting for their chosen mate and keeping the inner bay safe for the newly born calves.
Apart from the odd visual of nursing mothers huddling in the center, this particular mating ritual may be similar to what often occurs on land in typical tourist hotspots. Ecologically speaking, winter in the Caribbean sea is like Spring Break for the humpbacks.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the spectacular winter shows make Samana Bay one of the world’s best places to whale watch. The Sanctuary for Marine Animals of the Dominican Republic, established in 1966, is considered one of the first whale sanctuaries in the world.
The area is host to a number of other ecological treasures, making it a location favored by those seeking an escape from the well-trafficked cities of the Dominican Republic, like Puerto Plata and Punta Cana. With the help of the Nature Conservancy, the United Nations and the Smithsonian, the country has aggressively tried to preserve its eco-system.
However, there are some animal activists who fear the Dominican government is going in the wrong direction. The country joined the International Whaling Commission, which regulates the whale hunting industry, in 2009.
According to the Dominican publication “Diario Libre”, Greenpeace Latin American coordinator Milko Schvartzman accused the country of not paying the $10,000 dollar annual fee that allows a vote in commission meetings. As a result, Schvartzman says, the commission approved the whaling of nine humpbacks over a three-year period for the subsistence of the people in Greenland.
For many ecotourists, animal activists and proud Dominicans, this is a bad sign. To them, every whale killed threatens the unique draw of the Samana Bay, and activists are insisting that the Dominican government take a more active role in this year’s upcoming meeting.
But for now, tourists can take a peek at this breathtaking animal at work.
Erica Lopez is a freelance writer for Fox News Latino.