Gentle Giants Sighted off of Dominica! A Seafaring Excursion in the Whale Watching Capital of the Caribbean*

Whale tails off of the coast of Salisbury, Dominica thrilled respectful onlookers aboard the Anchorage Hotel's catamaran, 'Passion'.

Whale tails off of the coast of Salisbury, Dominica thrilled respectful onlookers aboard the Anchorage Hotel’s catamaran, ‘Passion’ on Sunday April 19, 2015.

On a breezy, hazy Sunday in mid-April 2015, I, along with  my companions Jenny and Jeremiah stepped  from the wharf at Dominica’s Anchorage Hotel, Whale Watch and Dive Center  onto the ‘Passion’ catamaran for a memorable whale watch excursion.  I was particularly delighted to be going offshore that day to search for gentle giants in the sea. Only a few days earlier,  I had attended an enthusiastic presentation about the ongoing Dominica Sperm Whale Project from its head research scientist,  Dr. Shane Gero . It had been my good fortune to interview this whale biologist (cetologist) for a piece about Sperm Whales and this initiative in 2011.  That particular article is located on the avirtualdominica.com website and you can read it by clicking here. I also enjoyed a similar outing with the Anchorage’s knowledgeable captain and crew in August 2013.  You can see it here.

Dr. Shane Gero is the head researcher of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project. In April 2015, he presented an overview of the project at its 10 year mark at the Anchorage Hotel

Whale biologist Dr. Shane Gero is the head researcher of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project. In April 2015, he presented an overview of the project at its 10 year mark at the Anchorage Hotel

In 2015, the project had reached its 10 year mark, and after thousands of hours of observing the whales, a great deal more is now understood about these reclusive creatures who spend most of their time underwater. I was intrigued by the phenomenal information that Dr. Gero disclosed about these large mammals. However, it is what he suggested in terms of their familial relationships and “complex social structure” that impressed me the most! You can find out more about his team’s research and findings in the links noted in the first paragraph.

In addition, he reminded the group about global concerns such as climate change, pollution,

Dr. Gero stressed the need for regional conservation, whale sanctuaries and concerted efforts to protect the oceans and their inhabitants.

Dr. Gero stressed the need for regional conservation, whale sanctuaries and concerted efforts to protect the oceans and their inhabitants.

man-made ocean noise and overfishing. Dr. Gero concluded his fascinating presentation by stressing the dire need for collaborative conservation programs  for marine life and an increased awareness of the importance of healthy oceans.

Before we actually stepped aboard the ‘Passion’,  Captain Philbert reinforced many of the points raised by Dr. Gero in the mini-lecture he provided about Sperm Whales in the Anchorage Hotel’s Whale Research Centre. Then we set off in the catamaran and  proceeded in a northerly direction up the coast from Roseau.  My friends and I admired the magnificent topography of

Captain Philbert gave us a brief pre-boarding overview of the Sperm Whales features in the Whale Research Centre at the Anchorage Hotel. The female sperm whale skeleton  to his right was reassembled after it had washed ashore in the north of the island, the cause of its death unknown.

Captain Philbert gave us a brief pre-boarding overview of the Sperm Whales’ features in the Whale Research Centre at the Anchorage Hotel. This female sperm whale skeleton was reassembled after it had been buried, as it  had washed ashore in the north of the island. The cause of its death is unknown.

the Nature Island as we motored along.  It is impossible, I think, to ever get tired of looking at those prominent verdant massifs that form the backbone of this beautiful country.  I’ve written this  before and I’ll write it again:  When the Kalinago people sailed  from South America through the Caribbean islands over a thousand years ago, they accurately ‘nailed’ Dominica’s description with this indigenous name: Waitukubuli. It means “tall is her body!”

Morne Trois Pitons, Dominica's second highest massif is a mountain majesty with its 3 peaks.

Morne Trois Pitons, Dominica’s second highest massif is a mountain majesty with its 3 peaks.

Gwendominica and Jeremiah studied a map of Dominica and compared it with each mountain we could see as we sailed along Dominica's west coast. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

Gwendominica and Jeremiah studied a map of Dominica and compared it with each mountain we could see as we sailed along Dominica’s west coast. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

While Jenny scouted for whales, Jeremiah and I studied a map to ensure that we could correctly identify each peak! Every half hour or so, Captain Philbert and a crew member would lower the hydrophone into the water to listen for the loud ‘clicks’ (the sound the Sperm Whales make for

Captain Philbert and a crew member prepare to lower teh hydrophone and listen for whale 'clicks' as Jenny and Jeremiah look on.

Captain Philbert and a crew member lowered  the  hydrophone and  listened for whale ‘clicks’ as Jeremiah and Jenny looked on.

echo-location). It was quiet for a while, but then I believe the crew got a message from another whale watching boat, their business neighbour Dive Dominica , who announced that whales had been sighted off of the coast of Salisbury! We were almost there when we responded to an enthusiastic shout from an excited crew member:  “Whales at 12 o’clock!” There were only nine of us on the boat, apart from the crew, and we all carefully moved to the bow for best viewing.  Jenny and Jeremiah sat down on the net.  I was not so inclined and stayed a little further behind on the port side.  Later on, I ventured onto the firm passageway between the two front nets with assistance from a helpful crew member. Then I held on to ropes on each side of me, as there was a bit of a roll. I had also been looking at a chart with a variety of tails that have been identified over the years (they all have their differences, in terms of markings) and the young man graciously offered to take it off my hands.  Good thing, or it might have blown away once I became distracted by the next whale sighting!

Jenny Spencer captured this sensational shot of a whale dive. I presume the calf is to the right and the other whale nearby, as there were three together.

Jenny Spencer captured this sensational shot of a whale dive. I presume it is a juvenile on the right.

This whale dive created quite a splash.  Jenny Spencer had a front row seat on the catamaran when she took this photo!

This whale dive created a splash. Jenny Spencer had a front row seat on the catamaran when she took this photo!

We oohed and aahed when we came upon two adult  female whales and a calf on the surface of the sea.  I had already learned from Dr. Gero that whale families do take care of each other, and all the females, who stay together for life, are involved in nurturing the youngsters.  What was curious during this viewing,  however, is that one of the whales was bringing her tail down hard from a horizontal position,  smacking the surface of the water.  She repeated this several times.  When I asked the crew about this behavior, the exact reason was of course, unknown, but there were suggestions that it could have been a warning as two boats were near them (a perceived threat?), or it could have been that the baby was being ‘troublesome’ (playful) and this was a way to express annoyance, perhaps. (I think I will ask Dr. Gero his opinion, even though he wasn’t there). And ‘big up’ to Captain Philbert and crew for providing passengers with a ‘heads-up’ for photos when the whales were set to dive and display their tales!

Morne Diablotin, Dominica's tallest peak was shrouded in haze that day.

Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s tallest peak was shrouded in a haze that day.

Gwendominica was all set to see whales and appreciate the Nature Island's topography from a distance.  Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

Gwendominica was all set to see whales and appreciate the Nature Island’s topography from a distance. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

After several minutes, even the calf submerged with his family(these animals are below the surface about 80 % of their lives for 45 minutes to an hour at a time. Sperm whales can dive as deep as 2 kilometers!).

From my vantage point on the catamaran, I could observe whales enjoying their interval on top of the sea.

From my vantage point on the catamaran, I could see whales enjoying their interval on top of the sea.

As the boat motored along  in a southerly direction, I gasped as I looked off of the bow  and saw the gorgeous tail of another whale as it dove into the deep.  I did not have camera up, and it seemed as if only a few people, Jenny included, observed that marvelous sight.  Then a few minutes later, two whale spouts were seen just ahead of the catamaran, with a third even farther out to sea. They would have likely been related to the first three we observed nearby.   As we gazed in silent wonder upon these magnificent creatures, we could hear the closest two  breathe through their blow holes.  We were immediately caught up in a mood of reverie  as we took in this very fine aspect of marine life.

After 20 minutes or so, the whales disappeared from view so we headed south in search of dolphins.  While we did not spot any that afternoon, I was not disappointed as I had seen ‘super-pods’ of these playful mammals a few years earlier.  You can read about that adventure here.  Of course, we all felt blessed to have seen some Sperm Whales that afternoon, because there are never any guarantees as to where they might be in the Eastern Caribbean on any particular day.

The sun had almost set by the time the Passion cruised back to its home base at the Anchorage Hotel.

The sun had almost set by the time the Passion cruised back to its home base at the Anchorage Hotel.

On the return journey, we all ‘caught the breeze’ and became better acquainted with each other, as we excitedly recounted our whale tales (tails) on that

Jenny and Jeremiah made the most of their whale watch and were thankful for such a great afternoon on teh Caribbean Sea.

Forestry Division/Crapaud research colleagues Jenny and Jeremiah made the most of their whale watch and were thankful for such a great afternoon on the Caribbean Sea.

amazing excursion.  As the sun sunk slowly in the west, we felt fatigued but extremely elated with our chance meetings of those gentle giants who live primarily below the surface of the sea!

*Special thanks to Jenny Spencer, who generously offered her fabulous photos for inclusion in this post. XO

Morne Micotrin, in the heart of the Roseau Valley prominently loomed over Roseau, as always.  Photo take by Jenny Spencer.

Morne Micotrin, in the heart of the Roseau Valley prominently loomed over Roseau, as always. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

 

 

 

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A ‘Whale Watch’ Adventure off of Dominica’s West Coast*

Because of my recent August birthday, I decided to take a little break from writing and partake of some Nature Island activities that had eluded me for some time. What was especially fitting for my self-imposed week of celebration was a gift that I had received  in June as part of my Hike Fest surprise  prize package.  It was a complimentary pass for a whale watch excursion from the Anchorage Hotel, Whale Watch and Dive Centre, which I had held on to for a fine day.  It would  expire by month’s end, so when the sun shone strongly on  the morning of Wednesday August 28th, I called the hotel around midday and reserved my space on the boat for the outing that afternoon!

The Anchorage Hotel Whale Watch and Dive Centre are Dominica's whale watch pioneers.

The Anchorage Hotel Whale Watch and Dive Centre is known as Dominica’s whale watch pioneer.

When I arrived at the hotel, I was amazed to see about 20 enthusiastic people of all ages waiting for this special trip.  While I noted that there were a few tourists, I observed that some resident Dominicans had made a party out of the event, while there were others who appeared to be visiting members of the diaspora.

Captain Philbert gave us somew background information about Sperm Whales before we boarded the boat.

Captain Philbert gave us some background information about Sperm Whales before we boarded the boat.

Just before 2 p.m.,  Boat Captain Philbert Daisy called us together in front of the on-site Research Centre  that houses a beached Sperm Whale skeleton. There, he welcomed us and gave us a few instructions. “You may not see any whales,” he cautioned us right from the start, “this is not Marine Land.   These are creatures in the wild and we never know where they will be.”

Of course, we collectively remained hopeful that there would be a sighting, as there seems to be a pod of Sperm Whales that are resident in the area year-round. But I appreciated why he mentioned that important point right away to avoid disappointment or misunderstanding.  My experiences in recent years were exactly that: no whales were seen, but I did enjoy the sighting of and being surrounded by a ‘super-pod’ of dolphins in July 2012, which you can read about here.

Captain Philbert then pointed to the female Sperm Whale’s  skeleton and explained some significant points about its anatomy.DSCF0551DSCF0554 I was particularly fascinated by the fact that this species has some flexible ribs, which collapse as this animal dives very deep (up to 1,000 metres) for its main food source, the deep-sea squid.  He also told us about the whale’s  large ‘nose’ and the oil inside it called spermaceti, which is used for buoyancy and echo-location, as whales cannot see in the dark depths of the ocean!  I was familiar with some of what he said, as I had written a piece about the Dominica Sperm Whale Project and a Canadian whale biologist named Shane Gero who has spent thousands of hours in Dominica researching these underwater mammals.  You can read more about Sperm Whales and current research about them  here.

The Miser's Dream is an all-equipped cruiser with 360 degree views on the top deck.

The Miser’s Dream is an all-equipped cruiser with 360 degree views on the top deck.

Then we boarded the boat, Miser’s Dream, and after the mandatory safety instructions, Captain Philbert explained that we would travel a few miles out to sea and then he and the crew would use a hydrophone to listen for whale ‘clicks’ , which is a sound that these mammals make in the depths to  echo-locate their food (squid).  They use other clicks, called codas to communicate with  each other.  You can read further about this amazing characteristic in the web site of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project.

I chose to stay in the rear of the cruiser so that I could take pictures of Dominica as we headed due west.  Most people went to the top deck so that they could be on stand-by for any sightings.  As a veteran whale-watcher, I knew that the crew would be checking the hydrophone from my location, and I wanted to be able to listen in for those elusive ‘clicks’.

The first time they checked, we were a fair distance out from Pointe Michel, a village south of Roseau, the capital. Captain Philbert and Crew Member Martin listened hard for the whale sounds (with me in the background).  No luck, but what they did note was that they

Captain Philbert (r) listens on the hydrophone for whale 'clicks' while Crew Member Martin drops the 'microphone' part of it into the sea.  It can also determine direction of the whale sounds.  The clicks are very loud and can be heard from several kilometers away - so there would be no mistaking the sound!.

Captain Philbert (r) listens on the hydrophone for whale ‘clicks’ while Crew Member Martin drops the ‘ underwater microphone’ part of it into the sea.  The clicks are louder than a jet engine (!) and can be heard on this machine from several kilometers away.

could hear the engine of a ship which was anchored near a quarry close to Pointe Michel.  Interestingly, the crew told me that they had in fact seen whales in this area a few days earlier, but they had definitely moved off. I was intrigued by this situation, because in one of my previous conversations with Canadian whale biologist Shane Gero, he mentioned to me that whales were easily stressed by noise pollution, ship engines being one of the sources.  As sound from their clicks is vital for their communication and food location, I wondered to myself if these creatures had gone somewhere quiet.  Gero did tell me that there is so much noise in the ocean in general, that for whales these days, “it is like living in a rock concert.”

From the sea, I am always reminded about why the Kalinago people called Dominica 'Waitukubuli when they paddled up here from South America over  athousand years ago.It means 'tall is her body'.

From the sea, I am always reminded why the Kalinago people called Dominica ‘Waitukubuli’ when they paddled up here from South America over a thousand years ago.It means ‘tall is her body’. Scotts Head (far right) is the southernmost point of land.

The Captain decided that we should try our luck further up the coast (north), so off we went.  While the day had been clear,

A misty rainbow appeared in the Layou River mouth area.  I enjoyed the plentiful shades of green as well.

A misty rainbow appeared in the Layou River delta area. I enjoyed the plentiful shades of green as well.

mid-afternoon moisture-laden clouds shrouded the mountains.

I always like to look upon Morne Anglais, which stands behind the populated area where I live south of Roseau.

I always like to look upon Morne Anglais, which towers above the populated area where I live south of Roseau.

Morne Diablotin, always a sight to behold from any vantage point, is Dominmica's highest peak at almost 5,000 feet.

Morne Diablotin, always a sight to behold from any vantage point, is Dominica’s highest peak at almost 5,000 feet.

By the time we approached the lee of mighty Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest peak, we were about nine miles out to sea, off of the village of Colihaut.  The crew was going to try for the third time to find whales by hydrophone, when all of a sudden Martin gave a shout: ” Whales at 9 o’clock!”  We all turned to look in a westerly direction (further out to sea), and sure enough, spray from a whale’s blow-hole could be clearly seen. Captain Philbert steered the boat slowly and carefully in that direction, but he didn’t have to go far – a few whales were coming towards us!

A Sperm Whale's blow hole spray alerted the crew to their close proximity  to the boat.

A Sperm Whale’s blow-hole spray alerted the crew to their close proximity to the boat.

We quietly cheered with glee. I was still at the back of the boat, but not for long.  Crew Mate Jefferson immediately offered to help  me to skirt the narrow starboard side of the boat so that I could see the magnificent animals ‘up close and personal’ from the bow.  I was the first one on the front of the lower deck.  A few other younger people joined me momentarily.  I guess they felt that if a lady of a certain age (50+ club) could make her way to a more open area on the boat, so could they!  I was only a little worried when one of the girls – a Canadian, in fact, mentioned that she couldn’t swim.  Mentally, I took quick note of the nearby life-preserver and that fact that Crew Mate Jefferson was right beside us.  She was so excited about seeing the whales, that I think she temporarily forgot about her fear (but I kept one eye on her as she was seated right beside me)!

A young juvenile poked his/her massive head out as we looked on in awe and wonder.

A young juvenile poked his/her massive head out as we looked on in awe and wonder.

It would be fair to say that these gentle giants are very curious and are familiar with boat loads of human beings coming by to say “hello” and/or to study them.  It seemed even more evident to me when Jefferson tapped on the side of the boat, and a couple of the whales came very near, as would a domestic dog or cat.  I think everyone on the boat immediately fell in love with them –  especially  the calf, who was perhaps learning about this type of event in his/her young life while his mother stayed close-by.   One man was so excited that he scrambled from one deck to the other to film the lovely creatures and tripped over some ropes. He almost fell on the deck.  Thankfully, a number of us caught him, but it is a reminder that safety is always the first priority.

It is a little hard to tell, but yu can see that end of the whale's flukes (tail) as it was making a deep dive. You can see other complete whale dive photos on the web site links noted in this post.

It is a little hard to tell, but  if you  blow up this photo, you can see the edge of the whale’s flukes (tail) as it was making a deep dive. Other complete whale tail dive photos can be found on the web site links noted in this post.

We had plenty of time to observe this pod – referred to as “the group of seven,” which is the average size of a whale family –  notably all females, with  perhaps the exception of the calves. The mature males roam far and only return during mating season. More information about the whale families seen off of Dominica can be found in this section of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project. 

When Jefferson knocked on the side of the boat, a curious juvenile approached without fear.

When Jefferson knocked on the side of the boat, a curious juvenile approached without fear.

A crew member identified one of the whales by the name of ‘Can-opener’.  When I asked him how he knew it by that name, he explained that there was an indent in its fluke that resembled that utensil! (All of the resident whales have been named by identifiable marks on their bodies, especially  the flukes, which are usually noted when the whale is about to make a deep dive and the ‘tail’ appears above the surface of the water). Refer to the Dominica Sperm Whale Project for more information.

It’s been a long time since I experienced such  collective gratitude and appreciation for wildlife as I did on The Anchorage Hotel’s whale watch boat that day.  Everyone thoroughly enjoyed watching these magnificent creatures, as they breached, dove, swam on the surface, interacted with each other and openly approached us with little fear. I tried to get a few photos, but without a sophisticated camera or video device, I did content myself with mostly just looking at the whales.

This pod was gathering together for a chat, it seemed to me.  They had been spread out, but we watched them coming close together after a while.

This pod was gathering together for a chat, it seemed to me. They had been spread out, but we watched them coming close together after a while.

It is intersting to note that we are not the only social creatures on earth! This photo reminds me of a dog swimming towards its owner.

It is interesting to note that we are not the only social creatures on earth! This photo reminds me of a dog swimming towards its owner. Imagine!

After a considerable length of time, the majority of the whales had made  deep dives and would be in the depths for an hour or so before resurfacing for air.  Others simply swam further out to sea. The captain and crew had happily given us extra time  for this wonderful commune with nature. As the boat headed back to home base just before sunset,  I thought hard about this extraordinary experience and how it further enhanced my appreciation. love and respect for all  creatures with whom we share this planet. Perhaps we aren’t so different, after all!

If you are bound for Dominica, you would terribly remiss if you did not partake of a whale watch adventure on the Nature Island.  I hope you will spot some as I did that day.  And if not, you’ll just have to come back again!

*Special thanks to the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association’s Hike Fest Committee and The Anchorage Hotel, Whale Watch and Dive Centre for presenting me with this wonderful opportunity to experience an aspect of nature at its finest.

English Immersion on the Nature Island: French Students Learn about Dominica’s Flora and Fauna*

Students Carole (l), Victoria and Marie-Agnes from Ludicademi in Martinique demonstrated tremendous interest and keenly participated in class discussions.

Students Carole (l), Victoria,Marie-Agnes and Charles from Ludicademi in Martinique demonstrated tremendous interest and keenly participated in class discussions.

The Crapaud frog (aka Mountain Chicken) is critically endangered and is endemic to Dominica and Montserrat. Read about its plight and the exceptional efforts to save it here.

The Crapaud frog (aka Mountain Chicken) is critically endangered and is endemic to only Dominica and Montserrat. Read about its plight and the exceptional efforts to save it here.

During a class held at the University of  the West Indies Open Campus in June, the English immersion students from Ludicademi in Martinique grasped the significance of  relevant and meaningful vocabulary  that could be directly applied to plants and animals on the Nature Island. Over the course of three hours, they began to understand  the meaning of biodiversity, the importance of wildlife conservation, as well as how, why  and what endemic, migratory,  endangered and vulnerable species are found here.

By the amount of questions that they posed, it was clear they were tremendously interested in the less common  and threatened species that exist on Dominica. That afternoon,  renowned author and  Forestry and Wildlife Officer Arlington James (retired) would be taking them on an interpretive tour of the Syndicate Forest Nature Trail (located above Dublanc on the west coast, in the foothills of Morne Diablotin). I was assured that they would come away from this day’s topic with a great appreciation for and understanding of Dominica’s flora and fauna.

The Fragile’ Mountain Chicken’ Frog

They were particularly fascinated by the ‘Mountain Chicken’ frog (aka Crapaud), which is critically endangered (almost extinct!) due to a persistent fungal infection. It is a regional endemic, as a very  are few found on Dominica and Montserrat. Those that manage  to survive are being closely monitored by Forestry and Wildlife Division officers, with much appreciated assistance from specialists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Birds, Birds, Birds!

The Imperial or Sisserou Parrot is endangered and is only found on Dominica.  This is a female.  Photo taken by Forestry Officer Stephen Durand.

The Imperial or Sisserou Parrot is endangered and is only found on Dominica. This is a female. Photo taken by Forestry Officer Stephen Durand.

I referred them to the classification system of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) where they would discover the survival status of specific species. They had no idea that Dominica’s two parrots, the Sisserou which is endangered and the Jaco which is vulnerable are only found on Dominica.  That means that they are endemic to this country alone!  However, some of the students wondered if they might have seen Jaco parrots on Martinique.  I could not confirm this, of course.  I do hope that they queried Mr. James.  The Jaco’s numbers are increasing and the distance between Dominica and Martinique is not great, so I wonder if it is possible…I will certainly check with my friend, Forestry Officer/Bird Specialist Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste when I next see him!

Certainly, Dominica can be described as a bird enthusiast’s ‘heaven’.  Over 200 species of our feathered friends have been sighted here, although only about 50 are resident year-round (reference:birdlife.org).  Of course, the others are migratory.  The class was intrigued when I showed them a photo of a Blue-Headed Hummingbird, which is only found on Dominica and Martinique.  That means it is a ‘regional

The vibrant colouts of the male Blue-Headed Hummingbird are a sight to see. it is only found on Dominica and Martinique.

The vibrant colours of the male Blue-Headed Hummingbird are a sight to see. it is only found on Dominica and Martinique. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

endemic’!  I was very surprised that no one in the class had ever seen one on our sister island to the south.  I could only hope that they might catch a glimpse of one in the Syndicate area, as I had with ‘Dr. Birdy’.

Snakes and Lizards

Friends took me to see a nest of Boa Constrictors (locally called 'Tet-Chien' in Creole) on Canada day 2012.

Friends took me to see a nest of Boa Constrictors (locally called ‘Tete-Chien’ in Creole) on Canada Day 2012.

I showed the class a number of other photographs of animals on Dominica – at least my favourites!  They were really astonished by the possible length of the endemic species of Boa Constrictor snake – which can reach 10 feet!  I assured them that it was not poisonous, nor were the other three species that are found here.  While the confirmed numbers of this reptile are not exactly known, it is felt by some experts that they might be vulnerable, especially due to habitat loss and hunting.  They do play a vital role in keeping down the rat population.  I am always thrilled to come across one in the forest, which is not that often!

DSCF4538

The endangered Lesser Antillean Iguana (called Leza in Creole) is the largest lizard on Dominica. Recently some other types have colonized here from other countries.

The other reptile that I enjoy watching up close is the Lesser Antillean Iguana.  

Amazingly, the class had seen a bright green juvenile in the Botanical Gardens the previous day but didn’t know what it was!  It is the largest of about nine species that thrive on the Nature Island. Again, it has been suggested that  their numbers are in decline and that they are classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List.  However, on Dominica, these creatures are protected by law, so I hope they fare better here than on other islands.  I have seen them  in various locales along the west coast, including Champagne Beach, Mero Beach and  seaside at Coulibistrie.

This 'stick insect' is endemic to (only found on) Dominica!

This ‘stick insect’ is endemic to (only found on) Dominica!

Whales and Dolphins  and Other Mammals

Of course, I told them a little about the sea creatures as well, including a resident year-round pod of Sperm Whales, and plentiful dolphins.  A number of other types of whales are migratory and pass through Dominica’s waters annually.  Dominica is known as the ‘Whale Watch Capital of the Caribbean’, as the likelihood of spotting some cetaceans  on an excursion is very high.

Then we talked about  a few of the other 16 mammals that exist on Dominica:, including 12 species of bats, the rodent-like agouti, and manicou (opossum).  They are similar to, if not the same varieties on Martinique, according to some of the students.

Sea Turtles

There was a very lively discussion when I showed the class some video clips about the three types of endangered sea turtles that regularly nest on Dominica’s beaches (Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Green).  To see the females come in to  dig a nest and lay many eggs, or to watch hatchlings run into the sea are awesome sights.  As these animals are protected by law on Dominica, some students queried the balance between tradition and conservation.  Historically, turtle meat and eggs have been eaten by some people here.  There was  some concern  in the class about being denied one’s rights to eat a traditional food or to protect an endangered species.  It can be a delicate subject, but I urged the students to consider that if they were plentiful, and if there were no other food sources, I could understand the need to hunt them.  Most definitely, that is not the case these days, and anyone caught interfering with the turtles is arrested.  I also told the group that a number of community associations, especially on the east coast, patrol the beaches at night when the turtles come in.  They also offer turtle  watching tours!

Flora/Plants

There was so much to say about the flora and fauna found on Dominica that I ran out of time.  It was important to point out that the Smithsonian Institute In Washington D.C. has previously described Dominica as “a giant plant laboratory, unchanged for 10,000 years” (Fodor’s Caribbean, 1996).  I made sure to emphasize that there are over 1,000 flowering plants in Dominica, of which 11 species are only found here, and nowhere else!

These red and pink ginger lilies are called exotic plants because they were introduced to Dominica from sources in Malaysia.

These red and pink ginger lilies are called exotic plants because they were originally introduced to Dominica from sources in Malaysia.

These beautiful anthurium lilies belong to the monocotyledons class, of which tere are 186 species on the Nature Island

These beautiful anthurium lilies belong to the class of ‘monocotyledons’, of which there are 186 species on the Nature Island

Two species of heliconia flowers are only found on Dominica.

Two species of heliconia flowers are only found on Dominica.

Prolific Gommier Trees are indigenous to the caribbean region.  There are about 200 forest trees in Dominica.

Prolific Gommier Trees are indigenous to the Caribbean region. There are about 200 types of forest trees in Dominica.

I quickly showed them a few more photos of my favourites and then they were off for their excursion with retired forestry and wildlife expert Mr. Arlington James to learn more in the forest at the Syndicate Eco-site.

This "chicken of the forest' mushroom is edible, although there are other species on Dominica that are poisonous!

This “chicken of the forest’ mushroom is edible, although there are other species on Dominica that are poisonous!

I think they were truly amazed about the extraordinary amount of biodiversity on the tiny lush Nature Island!

* This mini English immersion programme was organized by Tina Alexander, Executive Director of Lifeline Ministries, Dominica.

Reference: Overview of the Flora and Fauna of Dominica [notes] prepared by Stephen Durand For Dominica State College Basic Skills Training Programme, October 2006.