Whale Tale

Swaying from side to side, I made my best effort to train my tired eyes on the horizon as I fought against drowsiness brought on by a mixture of motion sickness pills and the rhythmic rolling of waves. Somehow I must have failed to learn my lesson after the last time I went out into a turbulent Caribbean Sea on a tiny boat in search of large marine animals. Although that adventure had resulted in swimming with graceful whale sharks, it had also led to a lot of hurling over the side of the boat, along with some serious misgivings about excursions onto the open sea. This is the kind of lesson that tends to wear off quickly for me, so it was no surprise that six months later I had talked my friends into joining me on a quest to find the world’s largest toothed whale.

Dominica happens to be the only place on earth that hosts sperm whales year round, which was enough to persuade me back onto a boat. While sperm whales are typically migratory, the waters surrounding Dominica have perfect conditions to sustain resident pods of female whales and calves due to its deep waters where they can feed on giant squid. Chances of seeing whales in the waters around Dominica are roughly 90% in March, but the more time we spent bobbing on the waves, the more it seemed like we might just have chosen an incredibly unlucky day for our expedition.

Luckily for me, I had purchased a new motion sickness medication before the trip and it was working much better than the one I’d used on that nauseating day back in Mexico, so I didn’t have to worry about seasickness as our captain fought the waves with our tiny boat. After some time of fruitless searching, Captain Sello got a call from another boat on the far side of the island that had located a pod of sperm whales. He sped north towards more protected, calmer waters, and as we approached the other boat we could see the backs of two whales emerging from the sea.

It was two females from a local pod and we got to watch them surface a few times, spewing water into the air as they breathed through their blow holes, before they fluked and disappeared back into the water for a deep dive. I watched their “footprints” linger as a disturbance on the water’s surface as I asked Sello a barrage of questions about sperm whale behavior and biology.

We floated in the area, waiting for more whales to surface, but after about 40 minutes, Sello and our other guide, Brittany, pulled out a hyrdophone and held it underwater to try to listen for the clicking sounds of the whales. A smile cracked across Brittany’s face as she listened with a pair of headphones and said, “They’re definitely down there.”

Then, she passed around the headphones so we could all take a listen. When it was my turn, I was surprised by the faint clicking sounds that seemed almost mechanical since I’ve typically heard the haunting songs of humpback whales on nature documentaries. Sperm whale vocalizations are entirely different and I couldn’t help but imagine the family of giants that were communicating with each other deep below us.

It wasn’t long after listening with the hydrophone that we saw a massive male sperm whale surface. Unlike the females who stay in the area all year, the males migrate and only stop to breed for short periods of time, so this was an exciting find. It was crazy how much bigger he was than the two females we’d seen earlier, and I loved watching his tail rise up out of the water just before he took a deep dive.

When we arrived back at the port of Roseau, we still had some time left in the day to explore more of the island, and we decided to make a return trip to Trafalgar Falls since we’d all loved it so much the first time we went. This time the weather was nicer, and we were better prepared with bathing suits so we could swim in the natural pools that surrounded the Trafalgar’s base. Jared flew his drone around the canyon while Vince, Bonnie, and I scampered over boulders, and Rachel relaxed under a small waterfall. Since the sun was shining, we could see a rainbow in one of the waterfalls, which made the experience feel even more magical.

©Jared Hauck

At nightfall, we drove back to the little town of Wotten Waven where we took a soak in the sulphuric springs at Tia’s Hot Spa. I felt that I could easily get used to living somewhere full of natural hot tubs to enjoy.

The next day was deserving of its own post, so I am going to fast forward time just a little to our last day on Dominica. Our flight off of the island didn’t leave until the afternoon, which meant we could check out a couple last points of interest before our departure.

First up was Emerald Pool, a picturesque waterfall in Morne Trois Piton National Park. We asked the attendant at the trailhead for advice on where else to stop that morning, and she offered a ton of helpful suggestions. She also informed us that we were the first ones to arrive to the trail that day, and we’d have Emerald Pool to ourselves for about an hour before a cruise tour arrived.

The waterfall at Emerald Pool was much smaller than Trafalgar Falls, but still beautiful, and it poured into a refreshing (as in far too cold for me) swimming hole with green water.

We had just enough time to enjoy the peaceful morning before the cruise groups started to arrive, at which point we threw on our shoes and started to hike out of the canyon. On our way back to the parking lot, we stopped for a few minutes to look at a view of lush green mountains. As luck would have it, a parrot flew past as we were gazing out at the landscape. It came into and out of view very quickly, so it was hard to tell which of Dominica’s two parrot species it was. Sisserou and Jaco parrots are both found in the mountains of Dominica, and getting to see one was a perfect way to top off the trip.

After leaving Emerald Pool, we drove over to the east side of the island so we would be closer to the airport, and made one last stop at a cliff made of spongy, red rocks. It took a bit of trial and error, and stopping to ask for directions before we actually found the place we were looking for. Just as we finally stepped onto the red cliff, a strong wind picked up and the sky opened up to douse us with the most aggressive deluge of the trip. This seemed like an apt ending for such a rainy week. We sheltered in the forest until the rain passed, and then wen’t back out to explore the rocks, now much soggier than we had been only minutes before.

After we hiked back to the car and changed into dry clothes it was time to actually go to the airport to catch our flight. I wasn’t thrilled about having to leave Dominica and return to Michigan winter, but just because the trip was over for us, doesn’t mean I’m done writing about it. Next post, I’ll go back in time by a day to talk about our canyoning tour, which was the biggest adrenaline rush I’ve had in quite some time!

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