Dominican Republic | Swimming with Humpback Whales

Dominican Republic | Swimming with Humpback Whales

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£3,995 / $6,230

March 21 – 30, 2015

Depart: Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Arrive: Puerto Plata. Dominican Republic
Length: 10 days
Focus: Humpback Whale conservation voyage aboard the Sea Dragon




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We’re now offering 3 grants towards the contribution required to join this expedition. Please visit our grants page to apply.


  • Swim and snorkel with humpback whales in the warm waters of Dominican Republic
  • Hands on sailing expedition assisting humpback whale conservation in Silver Banks
  • Travel with oceanographer Rodrigo Olson and film maker and free-diver, Belinda Braithwaite

We are very excited to be running a research voyage in the Dominican Republic under the auspices of oceanographer, Rodrigo Olson and local whale conservationist, Oswaldo Vasquez. This is an exclusive Steppes charter, sailing aboard Sea Dragon, a 72ft sailing vessel, originally built for the Global Challenge Race. Sailing in March, the trip will focus on capturing video and stills of the Humpback Whales that converge on Silver Bank Reef in Dominican Republic, in an effort to assist with the conservation research being conducted by Oswaldo Vasquez. There will also be efforts to obtain whale skin samples and bio-acoustic data, and if conditions allow, there will be opportunity to snorkel alongside these magnificent mammals.

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Photo by Glenn Edney


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Rodrigo Olson

Born in Mexico, Rodrigo has spent his life sailing the oceans of the world in search of the planet’s most elusive whale species. He has a degree in Oceanography and was captain of the famous research vessel ‘Odyssey’ which spent 5 years studying marine mammals around the globe. He has covered almost 300,000 nautical miles on sailing boats. A highly experienced diver, his ability to free-dive to great depths has resulted in fantastic footage of his interaction with many species.

Belinda Braithwaite

Belinda rode her horse solo from Gibraltar to Paris and wrote a bestseller ‘A Girl, a Horse and a Dog’ about her adventures. Her adventurous life has given her plenty of on-camera experience, and led her into film-making. Her sharp eye for detail gives her the ability to quickly get to grips with the subject, land or sea, plant or animal. An experienced scuba diver, it is her free-diving ability and affinity with animals which allows her to film notoriously shy marine mammals.

Oswaldo Vasquez

With almost 30 years experience of studying whales and dolphins around the world and with countless marine biology texts to his name, Oswaldo is an absolute authority on cetaceans. Heralding from Dominican Republic his knowledge of the humpback whale behaviour in and around Silver Banks is second to none, and as such he has worked closely with the Ministry of Environment to ensure whale tourism is done sustainably and to a strict code of conduct.


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Day 1: Arrive Puerta Plata
Arrival day – meet with the rest of the crew on board the Sea Dragon and gather this evening for an orientation meeting and your first meal together as crew.

Day 2: Set sail for Silver Banks
Following breakfast and a safety induction briefing, set sail for Silver Banks. Evening lecture from Rodrigo and Belinda on whale watching and underwater filming.

Day 3: Arrive Silver Banks
Arrival into Silver Banks and dive in order to look for a suitable mooring, avoiding
anchoring on the reef itself. Evening lecture from Oswaldo Vasquez, Whale and Dolphin conservationist with the Ministry of Environment, Dominican Republic.

Day 4-8: Humpback Whale Research at Sea
The next 5 days will be spent exploring the seas around Silver Banks, looking for signs of humpback whales. This will be both from onboard the sea dragon and from pangas. Under the leadership of Oswaldo and Rodrigo, the objective is to obtain behavioural data on the whales, using hydrophone equipment to gather bioacoustic data and cameras (underwater and conventional) to both photograph and film the whales encountered for identification purposes. There will also be attempts to obtain skin samples, using a crossbow that fires a purpose-made dart, designed so that on impact with the whale it penetrates through the skin and top layer of blubber and then pops back out. The dart has a float attached to one end so that when it falls out of the whale it floats and can easily be retrieved from the sea. This is a tried and tested method of collecting critical bio-data and whales rarely react to the dart, besides the occasional flick of the tail. At this time of year it is highly likely that the humpback whales will have calves in tow so any activity planned will be governed by the mothers and whether they will permit the group to get close. Should the conditions allow and the humpback whales seem at ease, there will be opportunities to get into the water to swim with these magnificent mammals. Belinda Braithwaite, one of the crew leaders on board, is a free diver and filmmaker so she will be on hand to help you capture images of the humpback whales under water.

Day 9: Return to Puerta Plata
Drop anchor back in harbour where Rodrigo, Belinda and Oswaldo will recap on the trip and the research done before a farewell meal.

Day 10: Trip ends
Trip ends after breakfast.


You are joining a working expedition as a full member of the crew although the trip will not involve a significant amount of open water sailing. Our expectations of you are fairly straightforward. Your team will depend on you to fully participate in everything on the boat although there will be a cook on board to keep you well fed. You will be expected to work hard to the best of your ability, to be conscientious, alert, to look after the boat and to care for each other. You will not be asked to do anything you are not comfortable doing. You will be shown how to do any task patiently, and for as long as it takes for you to learn the right way. This is not a graded, competitive sport but a team of partners pulling together!


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Contribution Includes:

  • 9 night’s accommodation onboard Sea Dragon
  • Full board basis when at sea
  • Services of experienced crew
  • Hands on research opportunities
  • Loan of sailing oil skins

Payment does not include:

  • Transportation to and from Dominican Republic
  • Transportation to and from the dock
  • Hotel accommodation prior to the voyage
  • Meals and drinks when ashore
  • Travel insurance & vaccinations
  • Visas & gratuities
  • Alcoholic drinks onboard

Kit List
Please see our Travel Kit List.