Snorkel with Humpback Whales

Silver Bank

February 3 - 10, 2018
Cost: $5,020 - $5,520
Leader: Ted Cheeseman
Group Size: 19
Days: 8

Safari Overview

In the warm waters of the Dominican Republic, the world’s largest concentration of humpback whales converges to calve and mate on the Silver Bank. February is peak breeding season, which will provide you with once-in-a-lifetime experiences of in-water encounters and whale watching. Witness males vying for the coveted “escort” role and hear them sing their famous songs. Slip into the water to see curious calves as they follow their mothers and drink their rich milk. Absorb Ted’s extensive knowledge of photographic techniques and of the behaviors, anatomy, and temperaments of the North Atlantic humpback whales. When the weather cooperates, and it normally does at this time of year, you’ll get close-up photos of surface activity like breaching, flipper-slapping, and competitive interactions, and come eye-to-eye with whales during “soft-in-water” encounters. Nothing compares to sharing the water with a whale!

HIGHLIGHTS:
• Swim alongside humpback whales, including docile mother-and-calf pairs whose curiosity brings them eye-to-eye with you for an unforgettable experience.
• Take advantage of opportunities to photograph the intricacies of whale behavior and learn how to interpret these behaviors from our expert leaders.
• Discover the Silver Bank, an important whale breeding and calving site within the Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic, during the six days and seven nights aboard our comfortable ship.

Itinerary Updated: July 2017



Ship Info FAQ Print Trip
Date Description Lodge Meals
Feb 3 Arrive in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Board ship in the late afternoon. Turks and Caicos Explorer II D
Feb 4 Full day of whale watching while cruising to the mooring site on the Silver Bank. Afternoon of in-water whale interaction. Turks and Caicos Explorer II B, L, D
Feb 5 - 8 Four full days experiencing soft-in-water encounters and learning about whale behavior, anatomy, conservation, and individual personalities. Turks and Caicos Explorer II B, L, D
Feb 9 Morning whale encounters. Whale watching en route to Puerto Plata. Turks and Caicos Explorer II B, L, D
Feb 10 Disembark after breakfast. Fly home. B

Our Trip Leaders

Ted Cheeseman

Ted grew up traveling extensively and began studying and photographing wildlife as a child. After completing a Master's degree in Tropical Conservation Biology at Duke University, Ted returned to California to lead and organize expeditions full time with Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris. Ted currently leads expeditions to Antarctica, the Arctic, and the Caribbean and recently founded the citizen science project Happywhale.

Detailed Itinerary

A glimpse into our journey

Fly to Puerto Plata; embark on the Turks and Caicos Explorer II

Feb 3

Arrive in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic by mid-afternoon for transfer to the Turks and Caicos Explorer II. You will have the opportunity to board mid-afternoon, but if you arrive earlier, you may drop off your luggage and gear at the ship while the crew is preparing, leaving you free to wander around.

Arrive on the Silver Bank

Feb 4

Tender boat - Turks & Caicos Explorer II

Scan the waters for whales en route to our anchorage site on the Silver Bank. After our mid-morning arrival, we’ll be briefed about soft-in-water encounters, a profound new experience for all (except repeat travelers), and prepare for a full afternoon on the tenders. We’ll leave our ship anchored here while we search for cooperative whales in our two tenders.

Enter the whales’ world

Feb 5 - 8

The numerous female humpback whales that choose the Silver Bank as their nursery for their newborn calves are usually nestled in the northeast corner of the Silver Bank, a shallow area protected by coral heads. Although coral heads encompass the entire Silver Bank, the northeast corner has extensive coral that breaks the surface during low tides, giving protection to newborn calves (and us!). Our only point of reference is a rusting shipwreck, gradually melting into the edge of the barrier reef.

Each morning, we depart on our fully stocked tenders for full days of whale observations both above and below water. Activity on the Silver Bank runs in cycles, so we’ll have slack periods that vary from day to day. Typically we return to the ship for lunch, but if we experience extraordinary activity, expect to eat lunch on our tenders. If we return to the ship for lunch, we go back out in the tenders for the afternoon action. We return to the ship each evening in time for dinner.

We may have some “whale waiting” time while we look for cooperative humpback whales, but that time is quickly forgotten when we are amidst surface activity and soft-in-water encounters. Most of the time we will find whale activity nearby. In fact, we more often ask, “Which whale should we watch?” rather than, “Where are the whales?” Our biggest obstacle to success is spending too much time with uncooperative whales, so be prepared to leave one group in search for more cooperative ones; be patient as we may approach many whales before finding an interested group that allows us to join them in their element and on their terms.

Morning whale watching, then return to Puerto Plata

Feb 9

Snorkeling with a Humpback Whale

We will spend the morning on the tenders then return to the ship for lunch. Once we raise anchor, we will sail through the banks, watching for more whale activity from the ship deck while bidding farewell to the world of these docile creatures. We will arrive at the dock in Puerto Plata in the late evening for our last night on board.

Disembark the Turks and Caicos Explorer II

Feb 10

You will disembark in the morning and be transferred to the airport.

Silver Bank

Snorkel with humpback whales in the warm Caribbean while living aboard our boat anchored off the Dominican Republic.

19.754942, -70.56315

Ship Information

Turks & Caicos Explorer II

The Turks and Caicos Explorer II is the best platform for whale watching on the Silver Bank. It is 124 feet long with a 22-foot beam. The vessel will be our hotel for the week on the bank, anchored in a sheltered spot on the reef while we venture out by tender to share our days with the whales.


More Information
Ship Turks & Caicos Explorer II with Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris

Cost & Payments

Costs (in US$)

Type Description Cost Per Person
Lower Deck Double occupancy, twin upper and lower beds, porthole window, cabins 8, 9, 10. $5,020
Main Deck Double occupancy, two lower twin-sized beds, desk, chair, large window, cabins 3, 4. $5,220
Main Deck Double occupancy, queen-sized bed or two lower twin-sized beds, desk, chair, large window, cabins 5, 6, 7. $5,220
Upper (Boat) Deck Double occupancy, one queen-sized bed, TV, desk, chair, large window, cabins 1, 2. $5,520

We reserve the right to charge for cost increases that occur between when we set tour prices and the date of travel, for example, changes due to the cost of lodging and transportation. If you are a single traveler and you desire, we will find a roommate for you. If we cannot find you a roommate, we will not charge you a single supplement. Single rooms are subject to availability.

Please note that we cannot guarantee a specific cabin number. If changes occur, we will do everything in our power to assign a cabin of equal or greater value as the cabin type specified in your reservation. Deck plan, cabin arrangements, and cabin amenities are subject to change by ship operator. If space is available, some cabins can be booked for a single occupant by adding 90% over the listed cabin cost.


Payment Schedule

Payment Due Date Amount Per Person
Deposit Due now to reserve your space $500
Second April 1, 2017 $2,000
Final September 1, 2017 Remaining balance

Payments will be due based on the schedule above. All reservations require a deposit to confirm reservation of your space. For reservations made after a due date, all past payments will be due with registration. By sending your initial deposit, you agree to accept our payment schedule and cancellation policy as a contract. If payments are still outstanding two weeks after the due date, your space may be forfeited.


Cancellations

Refunds are given depending on the time left before departure according to the following table. The cancellation fee of $300 per person can be applied toward another tour if reserved within six months of the cancelled trip’s departure date. Cancellations are non-transferrable. Consider purchasing trip cancellation insurance that could reimburse your trip costs in the event of your cancellation.

Dates Forfeited Amount per Person
On or before Jun 30, 2017 $300
Jul 1 to Jul 31, 2017 10% of tour cost
Aug 1 to Aug 31, 2017 40% of tour cost
Sep 1, 2017 to Feb 2, 2018 100% of tour cost

Included

  • All leaders, transport, park entry fees, landing fees, and permits for all activities unless described as optional.
  • Transfers to the ship on February 3 and directly to the airport on February 10.
  • Six days and seven nights aboard the ship.
  • Meals starting from dinner on February 3 through breakfast on February 10.
  • Snacks, coffee, tea, juices, beer, wine, and spirits aboard the ship.
  • Cruising and port fees.
  • Trip Materials – information about flights, packing, entry and departure requirements, airport transfers, gratuities, etc.

Not Included

  • All airfare, airport and departure taxes, and excess baggage fees. Airfare is approximately $500 to $800 from the USA to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, depending on origin.
  • Tourist card fee for US passport holders of about $10.
  • Wetsuit and snorkeling equipment (mask, snorkel, and snorkel fins).
  • Transfers not on arrival and departure days as listed above. We can arrange divergent airport transfers and extra hotel nights for an extra cost.
  • Gratuities: tipping is, of course, discretionary, however we suggest budgeting $50 to $100 per participant per day for February 4 to 9 aboard our ship (about $300 to $600 total per participant), to be distributed among all the ship crew. Our leader, Ted Cheeseman and local operator, do not receive a gratuity.
  • Emergency medical and evacuation insurance and trip cancellation insurance. Read more about travel insurance.
  • Items of a personal nature such as equipment rental, laundry, telephone calls, medical costs or hospitalization, room service, and items not on the regular menu, etc. If you have special dietary needs, please indicate them on your Reservation/Release Form.

Climate

Weather on the Silver Bank is typically 75° to 80°F (24° to 27°C) during the day and cool enough in the morning to wear a sweatshirt or light fleece. The water temperature is usually between 76 and 78°F. On a typical day, winds blow from the N to SE about 15-knots (17mph or 28kmh), ranging from 0 knots to 25 knots; but the coral formations throughout the Silver Bank provide protection from the wind and sea conditions, and February–March is the least windy time of the whale season and rain is infrequent. The crossing to and from the Silver Bank is usually calm, but we can encounter rough sea conditions. At the mooring area, you will hardly notice the ship moving, regardless of the sea conditions. Because we are about 80 miles offshore from the Dominican Republic on an ocean frontier, sea conditions are subjected to Mother Nature’s many moods.

Fitness Level

Minimal fitness is required to join this whale safari, but your fitness and snorkeling ability enrich the experience. Getting in the water is not required; we’ve shared this safari with travelers who had wonderful experiences whale watching from the tenders. At minimum you need to comfortably and safely move around the ship and embark / disembark from the whale watching tenders. To get the most out of this safari you should be comfortable in the water, snorkeling, and getting in and out of the water via a boat ladder. Please contact us if you don’t have experience snorkeling, but would like to join this safari. Strong swimming ability and the ability to free dive (i.e., diving underwater without scuba tanks) are not required, but will also enrich your experience, especially if you can dive to hear whales sing.

Flights

Airfare is not included in trip costs. Detailed logistical information and the contact information for our recommended flight-ticketing agent are included in the Trip Materials we will send you. Please let us know if you are arriving earlier or staying later as we are happy to assist you with any extra overnights that you might want to arrange.

Flights you (or a travel agent) book: We encourage you to arrive in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (airport code POP) a day early on February 2, but no later than mid-afternoon on February 3. Depart from Puerto Plata (POP) anytime on February 10.

FAQ

What is the Silver Bank?

The Silver Bank is located about 80 miles north of the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos Islands, and it’s one of the most important breeding and calving grounds for humpback whales in the North Atlantic Ocean. At least 5,000 humpbacks use the Silver Bank from January through early April each year. The Silver Bank Sanctuary for humpback whales, declared in 1986, is approximately 200 square miles (about the area of San Francisco, California), and now part of the larger Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic.

Water visibility on the Silver Bank varies daily, but averages from 40 to 60 feet around the mooring area with occasional particles suspended in the water. The wind, swells, and slight current cause run-off from the coral and that then determines the amount of visibility. As a whole, the Silver Bank has patchy visibility: 50-foot visibility may turn into 100-foot over only 400 feet. The average water depth is approximately 80–90 feet. Wind can impede whale watching, so weather will dictate the quality of activity with the whales.

What is a soft-in-water encounter?

A soft-in-water encounter is passive, non-aggressive floating at the surface, in mask, fins, and snorkel, allowing the humpback whales to develop an interest in you. The key is to find a cooperative, tolerant, or curious whale to meet in the water calmly and peacefully on its terms, to experience a rare and treasured encounter between you and that individual. With hundreds of voyages under their belt, our guides can interpret the behaviors of the humpbacks and tell us how to react to them above and below the water. Following instructions is key to successful interactions.

Accommodations

Seasickness

Don’t let a fear of seasickness scare you away! Our vessel is anchored in calm water for the duration of the week, and it is rare for someone to be seasick from the type of movement encountered in the tenders we watch whales from each day. The overnight voyage to the Silver Bank on our first night is usually the only time motion-sensitive travelers take medication. Because this navigation is during nighttime, most sleep through it comfortably. You will eventually acquire your “sea legs”; expect sea conditions to be calm in the shelter of the coral reef and whale activity will keep you excited and feeling great. Read our suggestions for coping with seasickness.

Transportation

Conditions

  • Non-smoking policy: We have a strict non-smoking policy. Smoking is not permitted at any time or any place during our tours.
  • Maximum time in nature: We try to spend as much time in nature as possible to observe wildlife behavior, sometimes resulting in long days but giving you a more in-depth experience.
  • Itinerary route: The itinerary route, stops, and plans are subject to change by unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, such as weather or road conditions.
  • Additional forms: For some of our tours, you may be asked to fill out additional forms (e.g., medical questionnaire).
  • • Medical conditions and travel risks: Travel to remote places is exciting, but it is important to understand and accept the risks, both medical and logistical. Minor medical problems can usually be treated, but because we are often far from medical facilities, there can be no expectation for immediate medical treatment or evacuation, even in cases of trauma. Anyone with health problems needing close medical supervision should not consider going on this tour. Bring enough medication for the duration of the trip for any chronic medical needs since pharmacies are usually not available. When you send your deposit and signed Reservation/Release Form, you certify to us that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions that would create a risk for yourself or for other trip participants.