Watching Samaná Bay, January 2003
Both Habiba and I have been planning to make this
trip to see the whales for quite some time, and this year we actually
We flew to Santo Domingo from St. Thomas and stayed
the first two nights at the Palacio Hotel in the old section of
Santo Domingo known as the Zona Colonial. The hotel was the former
residence of Buenaventura Baez, who was President of the Dominican
Republic several times during the 19th century, and has been recently
renovated and tastefully decorated.
The hotel was oozing with colonial charm and the staff
is friendly and helpful. Our room was unique in that it is the only
hotel in Santo Domingo, maybe the world that has an old stone well
right in the room. It exists from colonial days. There’s light
inside so you can see down to the bottom and the top and is covered
to with glass, apparently to prevent anyone from falling in.
We spent the first two days in the capital touring
the historic walled off Zona and spent a good deal of time at the
Fortress of Santo Domingo.
We also asked around about transportation to Samaná.
There is scheduled air and bus service from Santo Domingo, but we
were more interested in taking a taxi so that we could travel at
our leisure and see the countryside. Asking around, we got a range
of prices and met several taxi drivers all of whom ready and willing
to drive us to Samaná some three or four hours away.
Then we met Felipe. “I’m from Samaná,”
he said. “My mother is in the military there. She’s
a master Sergeant.”
“He’s the man,” went through both
our minds at the same time and we arranged with Felipe to leave
the first thing next morning.
Arriving at Samaná, we checked into a hotel
and then we went with Felipe to meet his family. They were lovely
people and. like many Domincans. they had a beautiful garden, something
Habiba and I are very interested in.
Samaná is tranquil and beautiful. Fresh fruit
and seafood are abundant and the peopel are friendly. There are
more coconut palms on the Samaná Peninsulan than I've ever
seen in my life.
Then we took a drive to the eastern shore of the peninsula
to a beach called Las Terrenas, where we walked down the beach to
the end where a small river emptied into the sea. Then back to the
hotel dinner and a night’s sleep.
The next day we met Felipe, who had stayed in Samaná
at his mother’s house and he took us to a place a few miles
away from the center of Samaná where we hired a small outboard-powered
boat, locally called a yola, with captain and crew to take us to
see the whales.
It turns out that Felipe, despite being born and growing
up in the seaside town of Samaná, had never been to sea before.
The boat was small and the seas were rough, five and six foot waves,
but Felipe wasn’t afraid. Actually he had a ball.
Felipe, Gerald, Martine and Frederico
The captain and crew knew there stuff and it wasn’t
long before we were looking face to face with real live humpback
The ancestors of whales were land mammals that evolved about 100
million years ago. About 50 million years later they returned to
the sea, where they developed a smooth hairless skin to facilitate
movement in the water, underneath which is a layer of blubber that
can be as much as two feet thick which helps maintain the body temperature
of these warm-blooded mammals and can provide nutrition in times
when food is scarce. Legs became fins and a powerful tail developed
that moves up and down instead of side to side like fish and that
serves to propel these giants through the water at respectable speeds.
Their nasal passages are on the top of their head so that they can
swim and breath at the same time while on the surface.
Whales also possess a highly developed brain and nervous system.
Their brains are bigger, have more convolutions or wrinkles, thus
more surface area and have a higher brain weight to body weight
ratio than humans.
Every year, during the months of January February and March, the
humpback whale comes to the Bay of Samaná in the Dominican
Republic and to the Silver Banks located just north of the island
in order to reproduce in the warm shallow waters there. They spend
the rest of the year in one of five areas of the North Atlantic:
the Gulf of Maine, the Gulf of San Lorenzo, Terranova, Labrador,
Greenland and Iceland. The ones that travel the furthest from the
Caribbean, those that summer in Iceland, travel about 3,000 miles
beginning in November and average about six knots.
Humpback whales average about 45 feet long and live for about 40-50
years and are presently in danger of extinction. The Dominican Republic
is a non-whaling nation and the Dominican government protects the
species while in their waters
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