Samaná Peninsula Experience

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Kim Saves the Whales

Samaná Bay is considered one of the top destinations in the world to watch whales. If you're here in season—humpback whales come to mate and give birth from mid-January for about 60 days—this can be the experience of a lifetime. Humpbacks are the most active species of whales in the Atlantic (Melville called them "the most lighthearted and gamesome of all the whales" in Moby-Dick). You can witness incredible displays as the whales breach over and over, spouting a column of air and water with each surface, and then sink with a graceful arc terminated by their beautiful and distinctive tails. If you're lucky, the humpbacks will sometimes leap out of the water acrobatically or slap their tails. You'll witness and learn about other maneuvers, too, like "logging" and "spy hopping," when the whales submerge themselves for about five minutes at a time. Playing scout and being the first to spot the site of the next breach is part of the fun. The real advantage of whale-watching in Samaná is the reliability—the sighting rate is 95% between January 20 and March 20, so you're practically guaranteed to see whales.

The first official whale watch was conducted in Samaná in 1983, and was led by a Canadian named Kim Beddall, who is now the peninsula's recognized whale expert. She's also a tireless advocate for natural causes and responsible growth. Kim arrived in 1983 from Toronto to teach diving. She got a look at the whales during her stay and was hooked: "The local fisherman told me that whales came here to drink freshwater. Nobody knew what species they were or really why they came to Samaná, but they were here and I was hooked."

Kim is responsible for the comanagement process of whale-watching to ensure responsible activity (and thus to make sure the whales keep returning). There are now 43 official permits for whale-watching, a number that's now fixed in perpetuity. The fewer the boats and the larger the size of the boats, the less stress on the whales. (The effect of large cruise ships that frequent the area on mating whales is still unknown.) The rules that Kim helped formalize (a continual bureaucratic and political process) includes minimum boat sizes, minimum distance from whales, viewing order, length of time each boat can be with a whale, and a ban on swimming with the whales.

Now a certified marine mammal specialist, Kim leads the regions' best trips. Her company is Victoria Marine/Whale Samaná.

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