Each year The Silver Bank plays host to the largest gathering of North Atlantic humpback whales: from January to April, as many as 3,000 gather to court, mate and give birth.
Located in the Caribbean Sea 110 kilometres north of the Dominican Republic, and surrounded by ocean waters thousands of feet deep, the irregularly shaped submerged limestone plateau (known as a bank) rises to an average depth of 30 metres below the surface, reaching 18 metres or even less in shallower areas. The north-eastern edge of the bank hosts an impressive chain of coral heads of varying number and density. Near the densest part of the reef is the designated site where the vessel anchors for the duration of the visit.
The Marine Mammal Sanctuary encompasses not just the shallow calving and breeding grounds of the Silver Bank, Navidad Banks, and Samana Bay, but also all the deeper ocean waters between, which are heavily-travelled migration routes for whales headed to other parts of the Antilles.
No vessel may visit the Silver Bank without a permit, and all activity must adhere to strict guidelines laid down by the Dominican Republic’s Department for Protected Areas and Biodiversity, monitored by an onsite coordinator. Amongst other things, these guidelines limit the number of vessels on the Silver Bank. In fact, only three permits are issued, which limits the total number of visitors to less than 60 per week, or approximately 540 in an entire season. Low numbers help protect the whales from excessive contact, but visitors benefit from the elimination of overcrowding.
Under regulations laid down by the Dominican Republic's Department of the Interior and Parks, no scuba diving is permitted in the sanctuary except by special permit. These permits are generally only granted to researchers and/or film crews for specific projects. Professional photographers and cameramen must identify themselves as such and undergo a separate application process with the Dominican authorities. Any additional fees must be paid by the person applying.
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