There is no guarantee you will ever see a sperm whale and let’s face it – diving trips are expensive. But if you’re lucky enough to swim alongside these gentle giants in the Caribbean, it can be one of the most memorable experiences ever.
There are a handful of companies in Dominica that offer the opportunity to swim and dive with sperm whales. This is a strictly controlled part of Dominica’s tourist industry and the whales are a matter of pride to the islands, so Dominica’s Fisheries Division issue just 10 licences a year for up to 6 people to swim with the whales. Excursions for a maximum of 6 people cost up to £2,000 a day for the organisers and so the number of divers in the water and near the whales at any one time must be kept to a minimum so as not to spook the whales.
Whale spotting tourists must rely on their lungs as scuba diving gear will scare the whales away; just a snorkel, wet suit and flippers are permitted. You will also be required to hold your breath under water and be comfortable swimming in the ocean for long periods of time way out of your depth, so people with a heart condition or who are not in reasonable physical shape should not do this.
As this video from the Financial Times shows, the sperm whale is a friendly creature and females in particular will swim up close to humans in the water out of curiosity.
The sperm whale is an awesome animal. Weighing in at 60 tonnes, it grows up to 67 feet long and has massive 21Ib (9.5 kg) teeth. It can also dive up to 6000 feet (1828 metres), where it hunts for giant squid in the ocean’s depths. Sperm whales are also the noisiest animals on earth. They communicate through a clicking sound known as echolocation, a kind of biological sonar used by various animals, including bats. This allows sperm whales to interact with other whales 35 miles away and hunt for prey at a range of 10 miles.
But its brain power that really sets the sperm whale aside from other mammals. Its brain is 5 times heavier than a human’s, making the sperm whale one of the most intelligent animals in the world. The spindle cells, which biologists think are responsible for love and compassion, are far more complex and denser than in humans. Meanwhile the neocortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for language and compassion, is much larger in sperm whales.
Sperm whales are known to be incredibly sociable and live in family units or pods. Mothers, daughters and grandmothers stay together for life, but mature males lead a solitary existence except for when they are mating.
Dominica is one of the best places in the world to see sperm whales because the ocean floor drops to several thousand feet very close to land where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic Ocean. This provides warm, sheltered conditions for sperm whales to feed, mate and socialise.
There are thought to be about 150 sperm whales living off the Dominican coast with up to 300 who come here to feed. Sadly, their numbers are declining by about 4% a year because of the effects of fishing, shipping, pollution and climate change.
Thanks to the efforts of conservationists and the International Whaling Commission, the sperm whale is now a protected species and there are now thought to be hundreds of thousands of them in the oceans. Until 1985 they were hunted for their spermaceti oil, which was used in many things from candles to gearbox lubricants, and to this day, they are still regarded as a vulnerable species.
Dominica is one of the best locations in the world to see the sperm whale. The small Caribbean country is a world leader in ecotourism and Dominica’s Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, has publicly endorsed it as being an important part of the island’s economy.
Dominica’s Citizenship by Investment programme (CBI) is key in supporting and financing ecotourism on the island. Financial Times Professional Wealth Management experts compile a CBI index, which places Dominica in number one position of all the countries, which offer CBI programmes.
Under Dominica’s CBI Programme investors looking for second citizenship can either contribute to Dominica’s Economic Diversification Fund (EDF) or buy into selected real estate options, which are available on the island.