Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Stranger in a Strange Land: Swimming with Humpbacks
In the Southwestern corner of the North Atlantic, a mountain range rises dramatically from the ocean depths. This shallow plateau near the Dominican Republic is known as the Silver Bank, and it's one of the most mysterious and magical places in the entire world. It's to this protected sanctuary that humpback whales return every year to breed and give birth.
I recently had the rare opportunity to swim with these magnificent creatures. Led by Captain Gene Flipse and Jeff Pantukhoff of Conscious Breath Adventures, I set out aboard the Sun Dancer II for the 70-mile journey from Puerto Plata, D.R., to the Silver Bank.
Conscious Breath Adventures is one of only three operators sanctioned by the Dominican Republic to conduct in-water encounters with humpbacks. Called "Soft In-Water Encounters," swimmers float passively on the surface with snorkeling gear, allowing the whale's natural curiosity to draw them closer. I'm normally quite comfortable in the water, but the idea of floating on the surface waiting for a 50-foot creature to approach silently from below challenged my normal self-preservation instinct.
By Christopher Michel