Scuba diving inThe Silver Bank
- One of the world’s most significant humpback migrations
- Unparalleled experiences snorkelling alongside whales
- Witness mothers with calves and males looking to mate
- Be one of only 600 people to visit during a season
Without doubt, the underwater plateau of the Silver Bank plays host to one of the most significant whale migrations on the planet. Upwards of 5,000 humpbacks visit this secluded shoal over several months of the year, all but guaranteeing the experience of a lifetime – complete with loving mothers nurturing their calves and rowdy males competing for a mate. And, as only three operators are allowed to offer trips, lucky visitors are blessed with some of the most profound and mesmerising encounters imaginable.
Whale encounters at the Silver Bank
WhalesJanuary - April
Included within the Dominican Republic’s Sanctuary for Marine Mammals, the Silver Bank hosts one of the world’s most significant whale migrations, welcoming upwards of 5,000 North Atlantic humpbacks every year. These humpback whales travel to the Caribbean Sea between December and April to mate and give birth to calves, before being drawn back to the cold, food-rich waters further north. As well as the shallow calving and breeding grounds of the Silver Bank, Navidad Banks, and Samana Bay, the Marine Mammal Sanctuary also encompasses the deeper ocean waters in between – all of which act as heavily-travelled migration routes for whales headed to other parts of the Antilles.
Visitors venturing to the Silver Bank can expect to enjoy once-in-a-lifetime experiences ranging from the playful, nurturing relationship between mother and calf, to the aggressive displays of strength and dominance performed by males hoping to breed. Interactions take place either from the boat or in the water, depending on the situation. Scuba diving is not permitted within the protected area, so all in-water experiences are ‘soft’ encounters conducted whilst snorkelling. Throughout these various interactions, visitors will witness a wide variety of humpback behaviours, including breaching, spy hopping, lobtailing, fin-slapping, and – perhaps the most special of all – singing.
For obvious reasons, the humpback whales are the stars of the show at the Silver Bank, but a variety of other marine mammals also frequent these waters. Sperm, pilot, minke, Bryde’s, Cuvier's, and sei whales have been documented here, along with Gervais's beaked whales, orcas, and dolphins.
Whale watching, snorkelling
January to April
10 - 20m
24 - 26°C
- Pack some sea sickness medication or remedies for the crossing, just to be safe.
Bring a few extra layers of clothing in case the wind picks up.
About the Silver Bank
The Silver Bank is an irregularly shaped, submerged carbonate plateau, located on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean – around 100-kilometres north of the Dominican Republic and a little over 150-kilometres east of the Turks and Caicos. This shallow shoal is sandwiched between the Mouchoir Bank in the west and the Navidad Bank in the east, all three of which are a continuation of the Lucayan Archipelago which also comprises the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. And, while the Mouchoir Bank belongs to Turks and Caicos, both the Silver Bank and Navidad Bank are considered part of the Dominican Republic, despite the geological separation.
Though entirely submerged, and with an average depth of 30-metres, the Silver Bank features many coral heads that come within a few metres of the surface, particularly on the northeast edge. As a result, this shoal is not suitable for passage of large ships. And, if you believe the legend, the sinking of a Spanish ship and its cargo of silver around 400 years ago is what gave this plateau its name. More recently, though, the Silver Bank has reached legendary status thanks to its truly unparalleled humpback whale encounters. In fact, this area is such a significant humpback breeding ground, the Silver Bank and Navidad Bank were protected in 1986, and established as a Sanctuary for Marine Mammals in 1996.
Trips to the Silver Bank depart from Puerto Plata, on the Dominican Republic’s north coast. The international airport in Puerto Plata receives direct flights from Frankfurt and Zürich, as well as Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, New York, and Miami. Domestic flights also operate between Puerto Plata and Santo Domingo, on the south coast of the Dominican Republic. Liveaboards typically depart Puerto Plata in the evening, crossing the Hispaniola Trench overnight, and arriving at the Silver Bank in the early morning.
Where to stay
Only three operators are permitted to visit the Silver Bank – the Aggressor Fleet, aboard the Turks & Caicos Aggressor II; Aquatic Adventures, aboard the Turks & Caicos Explorer II; and Conscious Breath Adventures, aboard the Sea Hunter. Together, these vessels offer less than 600 places each year, meaning trips can book up well in advance.
The main season for the Silver Bank tours is between the months of January and April, in the region’s dry season, during which time thousands of humpback whales descend on this shallow shoal to mate and give birth. Conditions are typically pleasant at this time of year, with water temperatures of around 24-26°C. Occasional winds can cause some slight surface chop and reduce visibility at times.
The Silver Bank was first protected in 1986, before the reserve was expanded in 1996 and renamed the Sanctuary for Marine Mammals. Today, the area incorporates the offshore shoals of the Silver Bank and Navidad Bank, part of Samana Bay on the mainland, and the deep, open waters in between. Covering over 30,000 km², this reserve now represents the country’s largest protected area and one of the most significant whale sanctuaries on the planet.
The number of vessels visiting the Silver Bank is strictly limited, with just three permits issued – restricting the number of visitors to less than 60 per week and fewer than 600 within an entire season. These restrictions help to protect the whales from excessive contact, while visitors benefit from more intimate, crowd-free experience. And, with so many whales visiting the region, operators can be highly-selective about encounters, only interacting with fully receptive individuals. What’s more, only around 10% of the the Silver Bank platform is open to tours, leaving plenty of undisturbed space should the whales desire some peace and quiet.