Local January 15, 2021 | 2:32 pm

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Know date and time for whale watching, but with sanitary protocols

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources started the humpback whale (Megaptera Novaeangliae) watching season in 2021 with a strict sanitary protocol to safeguard the health of citizens due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to guarantee the conservation of these mammal animals that travel hundreds of kilometers to the northern coast of the country.

The season will be extended from this Friday, January 15 to March 31 for the Samaná Bay and until April 15 for the Banco de La Plata in Puerto Plata.

The day was made official with the signing of the Management Agreement for the Observation of Marine Mammals 2021, initialed by the Minister of the Environment, Orlando Jorge Mera, the Ministry of Tourism, as well as by the Vice-Admiral of the Navy, Ramón Gustavo Betances and the Mayor of Santa Bárbara de Samaná, Nelson Antonio Núñez.

“It is an unprecedented joint effort, with sustainable tourism purposes; to care for the marine fauna, not only of the Dominican Republic but of the hemisphere and why not, of the global marine fauna; and it has a scientific reason because we will take advantage of this season to improve our database of these mammals and thus learn from them, know them in-depth and adopt actions that allow their healthy reproduction, for the enjoyment of all people,” said Jorge Mera.

With this agreement, the Management Committee of the La Plata and La Navidad Banks Marine Mammal Sanctuary is formed, which will watch over the correct development of the season and propose improvements to the Sanctuary management.

Time and measures for observation

These whales that arrive at the La Plata and La Navidad Marine Mammal Sanctuary in Samaná and Puerto Plata’s provinces to mate and give birth can be observed by the citizens from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

While until the 26th of this month, the visiting hours allowed on weekends will be until noon.

Within the sanitary measures, the Ministry of the Environment has instructed that the boats only have 50% of their capacity to maintain the distance. They are disinfected recurrently, besides having allegorical signs to the health protocol to avoid the propagation of the COVID-19.

Similarly, each of the captains of these ships must provide visitors with disinfectant gel, take the temperature, and ensure a mask’s use.

All boats operating in the observation areas must have a communication radio, and each boat may only make two trips per day.

To safeguard these mammals’ lives, the boats are required to be at a distance of 270 feet (80 meters) from whales with calves and 165 feet (50 meters) from other mammals.

The Ministry of Environment will only allow three boats in simultaneous observation, regardless of their length, and each ship will observe the humpback whales in order of arrival.

Another agreement with the boats’ captains is that they will not be able to observe the whales for more than 30 minutes and only 20 minutes in the case of a whale calf and its mother.

Likewise, when there are few whales, at the beginning or end of the season, this time is reduced to 15 minutes.

According to the sea conditions, the whale-watching boats’ speed should be moderate, and the ships that will have to wait in groups of three should keep a distance of 250 meters behind the whale-watching boats.

During this whale watching season, it is not permitted to swim or dive with the humpback whales (except for whale watching from Puerto Plata) or protect them from helicopters, airplanes, or light aircraft. The use of drones is only allowed for research previously authorized by the Ministry of Environment.

Other measures to be taken are the mandatory use of headbands, and when dealing with vessels under 30 feet in length, each passenger must wear life jackets.

These agreements for the regulation of whale watching were also signed by Patricia Lamelas, representative of the Center for the Conservation and Ecodevelopment of the Bay of Samaná (CEBSE), Lorenzo Martínez Esquea, representative of the Boat Owners of Banco de la Plata, Augusto González, president of the Association of Ship Owners of the Bay of Samaná (ASDUBAHISA), Lissette Gil, representative of the Dominican Foundation for Marine Studies (FUNDEMAR), and Oswaldo Vásquez, representative of the Environmental and Maritime Technology Advisory Service (ATEMAR S. A.).

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