Dominican Republic - Silver Bank
The Silver Bank, a possession of the Dominican Republic, is located between the island of Grand Turk in Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic. The area is considered treacherous by mariners because of its numerous coral pinnacles which rise from depths of 18 and 30 meters to the surface. Only few yachts are permitted access to the Silver Bank during the Humpbacks mating and breeding season (From January to April each year).
Unlike most of the places where Humpback Whales congregate are too cold or turbid for rewarding encounters. The Silver Bank area is one of the few places in the world where humans can have soft-water encounters with Humpbacks. The Silver Banks’ warm clear water is an ideal location for viewing and photographing the whales.
The Silver Bank is officially part of the “Sanctuary for the marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic”. This Sanctuary is one of the few places in the world where swimming with Humpback Whales is officially sanctioned, permitted and regulated. As a sanctuary, all activities within its bounds are subject to very specific regulations that apply to the activity of swimming with the whales. These regulations protect the whales from harassment and provide the best possible chance of a lasting and meaningful encounter.
Humpback whales find the area ideal for mating and giving birth. The banks offer safety and protection to females and their calves until the young are strong enough to make the trip back to the North Eastern U.S. coast.
Liveaboards in Silver Bank, Dominican Republic (Non-Diving)
From January to April each year, during the Humpback mating and breeding season in Silver Bank, liveaboard companies like Aggressor and Explorer Ventures Fleets will offer guests "Snorkel with Humpback Whales at the Silver Bank" liveaboard program.
During the liveaboard trip guests will enjoy two distinct types of encounters :
One type will occur on the surface as you enjoy the spectacle put-on by rowdy males as they aggressively compete for the attention of the females by breaching, slamming into one another, lob tailing, spy hopping and fin and tail slapping. Needless to say, these activities can only be safely observed from a reasonable distance in the tenders.
The other type of encounter will involve entering the water wearing mask, fins and snorkel to observe less aggressive and often curious groups and individuals. Whales considered to be approachable in the water include mother, calf and escort male trios, solitary females and sleeping whales. Sometimes the whales are curious and cooperative and sometimes they disappear in a flash.
The Whale Commission does not allow scuba diving in the Whale Sanctuary. Marine mammals view bubbles (scuba) as a sign of aggression and the Whale Commission wants to avoid any chance that divers and whales meet.
APPROACHING THE WHALES
Liveaboard operators will ensure all the guests will not be excessively intrusive or disruptive toward the whales. The way the whales are approached makes a big difference in how close you can get : Swimming quickly, aggressively, and loudly will scare away even the most curious whale. Slow gentle movements work best.
Remember you will be there during their breeding cycles. Humpback whales are giant, non-aggressive creatures. They are aware of our presence, however, if you get too close; remember that an accidental bump could injure you.
Whale Photography tips
When photographing large animals in the blue, strobes are not used. They create drag and are not powerful enough to light up a sharks, school of dolphins, or whales. So the best thing to do is work with Ambient light. When possible keep the sun behind you and allow it to illuminate the subject.
Using a fast shutter speed helps problems like image blur from ruining portraits and can help overall image composition by freezing rays of sunlight that dance in the water column, adding a sense of drama and dimension to the scene.
Speeds like 1/250th and 1/320th work well. On days when the sky is dark and overcast turn up the ISO from 100 or 200 to 400 or 800. Todays cameras make it possible to set the ISO much higher than ever thought possible without noise issues.
Select shutter priority. This lets the camera select the f-stop. In blue water work there is not a big issue with depth of field so let the camera does what it wants, as long as it freezes the motion.
Set the focus to single, and the drive to continuous high. Shoot short bursts at a time and try to avoid filling the cache. Even though high shutter speeds will minimize camera shake swimming and moving in the water has an effect. Shooting in bursts provides an opportunity to create a crisp image as the first and last image might be soft as a result of motion, but the frames in the middle are sharp. Short bursts are written to the card in less time than a sustained burst.
As for lenses the widest the better. Any of these will do the job. Canon 15 mm, Nikon 10.5 mm &16 mm fish eye, and Tokina 10 -17mm fisheye.