Dominica Journal: The Sperm Whale Project

Our main objective in coming to Dominica was to observe sperm whales in the wild with the benefit and guidance of local researchers and guides. Because of its is unique Caribbean geography (and bathymetry) Dominica is one of the few places on Planet Earth that you can observe sperm whales in an ocean environment near land and in relatively protected and calm warm water. For much of the last decade researchers under the direction of Shane Gero and Hal Whitehead have been studying a resident population of about 20 family groups that live in the region. Sperm whales are highly social animals and, like elephants, form large family units made up principally of female family members with juveniles. Social units are required to share in the protection and rearing of young sperm whales as adult whales must dive to great depths to feed and youngsters cannot dive deeply for a number of years after birth. They are often accompanied by relatives who act as “care providers” at the surface while mom dives for food. Principally squid in the dark ocean depths.

We were very fortunate to acquire permits from the government of Dominica and get to sea with ground operators who have been part of The Sperm Whale Project team for a number of years. Most of the individual whales we observed were known to our guides and even had names and a family lineage which we learned. Male sperm whales come of age around their tenth birthday and at that point leave the family unit to join bachelor herds who travel the ocean mostly in northern climes nearer to the ice to feed and generally “learn” to be the man. Unlikely that male whales return to their home path in later life but studies of this are as yet unknown. Among the beautiful interactions we experienced we did connect with a near mature young male of 8 or 9 years who provided a spirited encounter (now posted) on YouTube on our channel – aleutiandream.

Whale Tale: Face to Face with Earth’s largest Predator.

Lady Atwood and her two daughters

A young male uses echolocation to determine JJK's intent

Objects appear farther away than they actually are. (Shot with Nikon D300 and Tokina 10-17 fisheye lens)

Massive male Sperm whale nomad who showed up one day. Estimated to be 50 ft in length and about 40 tons. He was double the size of any of the females we saw.

Mysterious oceanic shark. Possible Silky Shark however rarely seen in these waters.

A school of Short finned Pilot Whales!

Short finned Pilot Whales at the surface. They harass sperm whales and once they showed up the sperm whales were gone for the day.

The view from below. Sperm whales engage their binocular vision by turning belly up to engae both eyes on activity (like us) at the surface that seems unfamiliar

Pam takes it all in

The Team for our adventure

Mother with very young calf. < 1year

Females checking us out

Young male stops on the surface to further investigate the curious humans

Sperm Whales are identified by the distinctive markings on their flukes. These are always caused by interactions with orca, pilot whales or in some cases cookie cutter sharks. researchers use these fluke shots to keep track of who's who.

Rare glimpse of Pygmy killer whales

School of 40 - 50 Pygmy Killer whales appeared and caused the Sperms to disappear for 24 hours.

Up close and personal at the surface. Amazing!

Sperm whale "spyhop" to check us out.

Sperm whales stay on the surface for about 12 - 18 minutes then dive to the depths to feed for about 45 minutes. We spent a lot of time searching for spouts and listening for echolocating sounds at the bottome using hydo-phones

Short finned Pilot Whale (likely a male).

    3 Responses to “Dominica Journal: The Sperm Whale Project”

  1. OMG…………where can I sign up????…….just amazing…so proud of you both…….a job well done…

  2. Thanks so much for these kind thoughts Margie. Very glad to share these experiences with you.

  3. March 26, 2013 | Reply
    myles huntington says:

    another ..mind blower, mom/dad only allowed us to watch gbh ect. for a reason..i.e jaq.cousteau/julia childs/original monty python….for a reason it was better and far more enriching than network t.v. you guys are providing that on your own….thanks ..i have to throw out all those sperm whale jokes from jr.high?????

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