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Whale watching

The Showmen of the Seas

When thousands of humpback whales visit Dominican waters to reproduce during the months of January, February and March, you should prepare yourself for an exhilarating experience. For these animals are natural-born performers with more moves than Fred Astaire. They are the all-singing, all-dancing showmen of the seas, and you might see some or all of the following when you are out whale watching:

Breaching: the great jumps frequently performed by humpbacks. The most breaches observed in one period was 130 in 75 minutes, and they come in a variety of styles. The most common is when the whale emerges from the surface on its side, twists around, and lands on its back. The less elegant belly flop is also popular.

Tail slash: humpbacks have large tails, and they often like to lift them above the surface and crash them back down on the water.

Flippering: along the same lines as tail slashing, only this time the whale floats on the surface, turns on its axis, and beats the water with its long flippers.

Spyhop: the humpback raises its head above the water in a fashion not dissimilar to a submarine periscope.

Rolling: the whale lies on the surface and rolls through 360°.

Logging: the whale just floats on the surface as if dead.

You might not be able to hear them, but male humpbacks on breeding grounds will almost invariably be singing a song. These songs - a series of plaintive moans, snores and groans - can be heard by other whales up to 30km away. All humpbacks within the same region sing broadly the same song, which changes and evolves slightly over time. So why do they sing? - sometimes for many hours without stopping. Since the songs are only heard during the winter, it probably has something to do with reproduction. Perhaps the males are announcing that they are ready for romance, or are possibly trying to attract a mate. When a female shows some interest, the male stops singing and escorts her for about 15 minutes during which time mating might take place. Meanwhile other singing males might pursue the courting couple, trying to oust the original escort from his position close to the female. They normally succeed after a few hours of aggressive jostling, mate with the female, then lose interest and return to their songs. Click here for more information about humpback whales.

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