Going dolphin and whale watching in Dominica is one of the best activities for nature and wildlife lovers. Dominica, known as the “Nature Island”, is a natural beauty that dazzles by land and sea. In comparison to other Caribbean islands, it’s mostly untouched by humans. The local residents take pride in preserving their natural environment. Even though we only had one day in Dominica from a cruise, we felt very lucky to have experienced a small part of it.
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“You know, some people here believe that Dominica is overdue for a volcanic eruption.” As we drifted away from Roseau, the capital city, our tour guide delivered that news to us. Then, he smiled and reassured us that there aren’t any immediate fears of volcanic activity on the Nature Island. Dominica has nine active volcanoes, and the last major eruption was Morne Plat Pays in 1270 AD. Two smaller eruptions of Morne Watt happened in 1880 and 1997. We gazed out to layers upon layers of lush, green mountains as our small whale watching craft carried us out to sea. Brightly colored homes and buildings dot the hills. It’s hard to take your eyes off this stunning landscape, but we were in search of the whales surrounding Dominica that call these waters home.
Why Did I Choose Whale Watching in Dominica?
There are so many amazing tours and excursions to take in Dominica, even if you only have a day on the island. I had traveled to Dominica on past cruises and ventured through partially submerged caves, soaked in hot springs, and wandered through a tropical rainforest. This time, I was really wanted to go whale watching in Dominica. It would our first time seeing whales in the wild.
In the months preceding the vacation, I read the book, Death at Seaworld by David Kirby, which describes the issues facing whales kept in captivity. Furthermore, we both watched the documentary, Blackfish, on CNN during their documentary series over the summer (it’s now available to watch on Netflix). Both the book and the movie opened my eyes. Whales deserve to live in their natural habitat and do not thrive in captivity. After watching Blackfish, I really wanted to witness whales living in nature with my own eyes.
Even though there’s always the possibility that we wouldn’t have any wildlife sightings, as with any wildlife watching tour, I decided that the risk was worth the potential reward. I decided that the risk of perhaps not being able to view a whale in Dominica was worth the potential reward, and we booked the excursion.
Going Whale Watching in the Caribbean
While some whales come to the Caribbean during only the winter months to mate, there are some whales that live in Dominica all year long. The Caribbean whale watching season lasts between November and June, and the best time to see whales in Dominica is between January and March (in the winter). In actuality, you can see whales all year long in Dominica because some of them permanently live in the Caribbean Sea.
Wildlife sightings are never guaranteed on a whale and dolphin watching tour. However, there’s about a 90% success rate of spotting whales or dolphins on your excursion. Tour operators can’t make wildlife appear or come to the surface of the water. An excellent guide will have a keen eye and know where to go for wildlife sightings.
Our Personal Experiences Going Whale Watching
We had amazing luck on this trip because we saw many whales and dolphins. It was incredible! From the start, it was clear that our tour guides were experts regarding whales and dolphins in Dominica. Throughout the tour, they were very knowledgeable and informative.
As we started to sail, the guides told us to look for a water spout shooting out from the water. This spurt of water meant that a whale was at the surface, shooting water out through their blow hole. Almost immediately, we saw a water spout off in the distance and our double-decker boat sped towards it. In the meantime, a pod of dolphins swam and leapt from the water near our watercraft. Our guides immediately informed us that these were Spotted Dolphins and Fraser Dolphins, and told us a few facts about these breeds.
Seeing Whales for the First Time
Seeing whales in the wild for the first time was a breathtaking and exhilarating experience. We could see the whale’s entire back and fin sticking out of the water, rising up and down with the waves. The tour guides knew the breed of the whale, the approximate age of the whale, its gender, and even which whale it was! They even knew a couple of them by name because they see the same whales day after day. When this gentle giant was ready to dive back underwater completely, its back fin rose up into the air and plunged back down into the ocean. We were in total awe.
Sperm whales can hold their breath underwater for more than 90 minutes before having to come back up to the surface. They can dive incredible depths – up to 8000 feet below the surface to feed at the seafloor. Our tour guides informed us that this same whale would return in approximately 45 minutes, so we should search for more whales in the meantime.
Going whale watching in Dominica was incredible. Within moments of viewing one whale and watching it dive below, we spotted another one. And another one. We even saw an adult and baby whale swimming side by side. They both returned underwater nearly simultaneously with their tail fins up in the air. It was so magical!
Whale calves do not venture at the same depths as the adult whales. For this reason, whales often take turns “baby-sitting” the calf. An adult is always nearby to defend the young whale from attacks while the mother dives down to great depths to gather food. So, it may have been the mother or another female relative of the whale, like an aunt, who was swimming beside the calf at the surface.
Not Only Whales…but a Dolphin Watching Tour, Too!
As we returned from watching the whales, we caught back up with our dolphin friends from earlier in the tour. As our boat drifted by, we saw numerous dolphin fins powering through the water. Some of them jumped out of the water. In total, there must have been about 50 dolphins around our boat. I’ve never seen so many dolphins in my life.
On our way back to the shore, we sipped on glasses of rum punch and absorbed the beautiful scenery of the island. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen such a green place. Dominica is an oceanic rainforest, so there can be a mix of sun and rain in the same day due to the high amounts of rainfall in the island’s interior. There are many volcanoes, rivers, waterfalls, crater lakes, national parks, and hot springs on the island. We can’t wait to get back to explore for a longer amount of time.
What to Bring on a Caribbean Whale Watching Tour
You don’t need to bring too much along with you when whale watching in the Caribbean. Unlike whale watching in colder climates, there’s no special clothing required other than whatever you feel comfortable wearing (shorts, t-shirt, etc). Things you will want to bring:
- Sunglasses and a hat to protect yourself from the sun
- Your smartphone or a DSLR camera with a long lens to capture the best photos
- Binoculars (not as necessary here because the whales and dolphins were close enough to the boat)
Remember that you should be as quiet as possible on the boat to not disturb the whales and dolphins. Also, do not feed the wildlife on your Dominica whale watching trip! And as always, swimming with the whales and dolphins here is not permitted. This is strictly enforced by the government to protect the wildlife. Here’s why you should not swim with the dolphins while on holidays. For even more information about responsible wildlife tourism, check out the wildlife attractions you should NEVER book (and a list of ones you should!).
We’ve also been fortunate to go whale watching in Iceland, too. Take a look at how the whale watching experience changes between the Caribbean and a location near the Arctic Circle!
Book Your Tour
While we booked our whale watching in Dominica excursion through our cruise ship, it’s easy to book the tour independently. This is a great idea if you’re staying in Dominica for a longer amount of time or even if you want to save a little bit of money (booking through the cruise ship is always more expensive!). This whale watching tour looks like an incredible experience because there are a maximum of eight passengers on board for a more intimate experience.