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Dazzling Sperm Whales in Dominica

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2020 is already sold out
dates for 2021 to be announced

If the luck holds, you will interact with the "Group of Seven", the best-studied social unit of sperm whales in the world.  They've been observed off the coast of Dominica since 2005.   Photographer Christopher Bartlett will be leading this very special expedition of 6 people maximum.

A bit about the animals

As background, you may want to know that the sperm whale male can reach up to 18 meters and weigh up to 60 metric tons, while the females are about a third shorter and half as heavy. Also, the sperm whale also has the largest brain and the longest intestine on the planet!

Sperm whales form strong lifelong relationships. They babysit for each other, have family traditions passed on by grandmothers, learn a communal dialect, and have different ways of life that resemble our various cultures. They live rich, complex and interesting lives.

The sperm whales off Dominica are predominantly groups of females and their dependent calves living together in 'units'. In the Caribbean, these units are small, about 7 animals, and appear to be matrilineal, (a female line of grandmothers, mothers, and their calves; referred to as families). Young males leave their families in their early teens to roam the open ocean, mostly alone, and may never see their families again. Units of females and their young regularly travel across ranges spanning several islands in the Antilles, but they appear to remain in the Caribbean as these families have never be identified in the neighboring waters of the Gulf of Mexico or the Sargasso Sea, where there is also sperm whale research.

Social recognition & language

Over 20 different whale families have been identified in the waters off Dominica, and there are about 10 that are seen regularly. Based on researchers’ images, It is known that they have been using these waters since at least 1984, but likely much longer based on their life history. Sperm whales can live to be older then 70 years. Meaning they meet a lot of other whales over their lifetime. It would appear that families have preferences with each other, and these social preferences endure across decades, suggesting that individuals can remember each other despite long separations.

Researchers think this social recognition is mediated by distinct dialects of Morse code called ‘codas’. Each family has a slightly different coda repertoire, but also share coda types with the other units in the Caribbean. Shared repertoires delineate socially segregated ‘vocal clans’ – collections of units that share a similar coda dialect. Units which share the same dialect associate and spend time together and units that have different repertoires never gather together.

In the Caribbean, the '1+1+3' coda type, which sounds like 'Click-pause-Click-pause-Click-Click-Click', is unique to the region. It has been used for at least the last three decades, and is made the same way by all the whales use it, like a marker of Caribbean nationality.

What to expect during the trip

Each morning you will go out and use underwater listening devices to locate whale families. Once you've found a unit, three people will slip into the water with Izzy, your captain & whale expert, and will move slowly towards the whales.

Interaction time with one unit could last 30 seconds or 15 minutes, the whales decide. If the interaction lasts more than a few minutes, the three people in the water will swap places with the three on the boat, rotating every few minutes so everyone gets a chance to share the encounter. If the interaction is too brief to allow a switch over, the next encounter will start with the other group of three going in first.

There have been interactions that ranged from 30 seconds to one that lasted 90 minutes. Out of five days there was only one day without a Sperm Whale sighting. There were other cetaceans and the views are not bad at all !   The other days, guest all had at least 20 minutes in the water with a minimum of four whales at a time, up to 90 minutes with seven.

The interactions can take place several miles out to sea, which could be calm or could have some swell. You should be prepared to spend plenty of time on the boat waiting for encounters and looking out, and should also be prepared to do some swimming to approach and follow the whales.

Packed lunches and hot water are on board for teas and coffee. Water temperatures will be in the low 20s, but in the water you will be moving quite a lot, so a 3mm wetsuit will be more than sufficient for most people.


Accommodation for this trip is in the Roseau, Dominica.  You will spend you days on the ocean aboard the Bonita Rose with expert whale guide Arun “Izzy” Madisetti, returning the comforts of Castle Comfort Lodge or Seaworld Guest House apartments at the end of every afternoon.


Itinerary, rates, what's included, trip details

The following is the 2019 info.  Rates for 2021 will certainly change.  The trip will be 7 nights, with 5 days on the ocean on board the Bonita Rose with expert whale guide Arun “Izzy” Madisetti accompanying the group. For daily itinerary, travel information, what's included & what's extra  ...   continue reading

Seaworld Guesthouse
$3610 per person, based on two sharing
$3760 single occupancy

 Fort Young Hotel
$4250 per person, based on two sharing an oceanfront room
$4390 per person, based on two sharing a deluxe oceanfront room

$5200 single occupancy in an oceanfront room
$5350 single occupancy in a deluxe oceanfront room

The program:

Day 1 Arrive Melville Hall airport, transfer to accommodation
Day 2 Sperm whales
Day 3 Sperm whales
Day 4 Sperm whales
Day 5 Sperm whales
Day 6 Sperm whales
Day 7 Island tour
Day 8 Return to the airport

The rate includes:

  • accommodation & diving
  • breakfast at the hotel
  • fees & permits
  • group airport transfers
  • transport for land touring


  • airfare
  • dinner is at your own expense
  • alcoholic beverages

Arriving & departing flights

Dominica is serviced by two airports: Douglas-Charles (DOM), formerly known as Melville Hall, and Canefield (DCF) Airports.  You will want arrive through Douglas-Charles, as it is the larger of the two airports and your transport will be furnished from here.

International flights from US and Europe are connected to the island through hubs in Antigua (ANU), Barbados (BGI), St. Maarten (SXM), Puerto Rico (SJU), and Guadeloupe (PTP). Leeward Island Air Transport (LIAT) offers direct connections from ANU, BGI, and PTP as well as other connecting flights across their 22 island network into Douglas-Charles Airport.

Seaborne Airlines provides daily service into Douglas-Charles Airport from Puerto Rico. The airline has a code share agreement with American Airlines allowing travellers to book their flights to Dominica directly through American Airlines.

We will be happy to assist with your travel to and from Dominica.

Your group leader - Christopher Bartlett

Christopher BartlettYour escort is our friend and colleague, Christopher Bartlett, an underwater photojournalist, a South African trained field guide & a keen conservationist.  Christopher's photos and articles appear regularly in dive publications around the world.   He learned to dive in South Africa and has a wealth of experience diving with sharks here, in the Bahamas, the Galapagos and Papua New Guinea. ... read more ...

Christopher will escort the trip from start to finish, providing local knowledge and photography coaching along the way.

He's bi-lingual French/English so a great choice for our French-speaking friends!

Christopher leads trips several times per year, looking for desert elephants in Namibia, or walking and sleeping under the Zululand stars in a Big Five national park, exploring the rugged tracks and wilds of Botswana, having a bit of lodge luxury in Zambia, or mixing the remote but wildlife abundant landscapes of southern Tanzania with the culture and beaches of Zanzibar, or in the Caribbean and the Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Contact us for more information or to book

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