On a sizzling hot Saturday afternoon in hurricane season (presently none in the forecast!), with sunny skies and calm seas, I decided to go on a whale watch excursion. I was tempted by the reduced rate offered at Dive Dominica as one of the special events featured during annual Dive Fest celebrations. It had been some time since I participated in a search for whales, so I was hopeful of spotting a few of these majestic creatures. They are really a sight to behold!
We boarded the boat promptly at 1 pm, and Captain Gus immediately gave us instructions with respect to the layout, as well as detailed safety measures. A chart filled with descriptions of whales and dolphins was brought to our attention. As we headed away from shore, we were encouraged to ask questions, stay on the look-out for any sightings and to be patient while we waited until we were a few miles out when the crew would check for whale sounds by hydrophone.
As we cruised further and further off the west coast, I was once again completely in awe of Dominica’s stunning and dramatic verdant beauty. It reminded me of the Kalinago name for the Nature Island, Waitukubuli, which means “tall is her body.” That was their first impression upon paddling here from South America over a thousand years ago.
From north to south, shadowy mountains, valleys, ridges and plateaus were shaded in many hues of green by the brilliant afternoon sunshine .Low clouds hung over the breadth of the island’s highest peaks. This splendrous scene created a captivating mystical mood, which really enchanted me. While I stared at this magnificent setting on a perfect day in paradise, I couldn’t get the well-known traditional English hymn, “For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies…” out of my head. That is MY lasting impression of Dominica, the Nature Island of the world.
Every half hour or so, Captain Gus would turn off the engine and the crew would dip the hydrophone in the sea. We were always between 4 – 6 nautical miles offshore where the waters went down to 4,000 feet below – ideal whale territory. But there was nary a ‘click’ in any direction. As the afternoon wore on, we fought hard not to be discouraged. We were almost as far north as Portsmouth when the crew performed the last hydrophone check. With no positive results, Captain Gus turned the boat 180 degrees to the south so we could head back to home base at Dive Dominica.
We were just off of Colihaut when all of a sudden Captain Gus’s excited voice came over the loudspeaker: “Look to your starboard side. Approaching a ‘super-pod’ of dolphins. There must be 500 of them!” We all squealed,whooped and hollered with excitement. They definitely put on a show in Dominica’s own natural “Marineland.” And there were two different kinds: Spinners and Pan-Tropicals. They were feeding on abundant flying fish in the area. These inquisitive marine mammals jumped, flipped, danced, raced along the boat and sometimes seemed to stand on their tail fins as they checked us out. I really was amazed by their vertical positioning above the surface. I consulted a helpful crew member who told me this pose is actually called spyhopping and whales do it too. Captain Gus drove the boat in circles while they entertained us. After half an hour, it was time to go. We continued southwards and a few dolphins followed us for a short while, then lost interest (or sensed they were going in the wrong direction!) and turned back to rejoin their pod.
My only regret is that my delayed eye-hand coördination, coupled with only a simple camera prevented me from catching those awesome critters in action. Next time, I’ll be better prepared! You really have to see them to believe it!
By then, the sun’s rays slanted in the late afternoon, creating a contrast of intensely deep shadows and brilliant reflections. I was overwhelmed with so much beauty surrounding me – on land and in the sea. While there were no whale sightings, we were all satisfied with what we had seen. We are sure to keep the memories of our extraordinary dolphin encounter and Dominica’s exceptional topography with us for a long time to come.