If the Dominican Republic  coastal waters were a Broadway play, the humpback whales and manatees would have stars on their doors. These top-billed actors draw audiences from all over the world.
Each winter some 3,000 humpback whales migrate all the way from the frigid waters of the arctic circle to mate and calve in the balmy tropical waters off the coast of the Dominican Republic, with the Bahía de Samaná acting as a kind of nursery. Peak “show time” for this event is in January and February. This is a world-renowned venue for viewing these magnificent creatures as they lumber through the water and sometimes breech right before the gape-mouthed camera-clad tourists. It is one of the most glorious spectacles, natural or otherwise, in the country.
This species of whale can grow to be 12–15 meters and weigh up to 60 tons. They are named for the way that they come above the water’s surface with an arched back. As they cut across the water’s surface, you’ll be able to see the signature knobby heads, white flippers, two blowholes, and large tails. For their entire time in the tropics, humpbacks do not eat a single thing. While in the arctic circle they build up their 15–20 centimeters of fat to sustain them on their journey and for the rest of the time they’re in the tropics.
The endangered West Indian manatee can sometimes be found in the shallow waters of slow-moving rivers, estuaries, bays, canals, and coastal areas. Nicknamed “sea cows,” these are very gentle and slow-moving animals that “graze” on plants at the ocean floor. In fact, everything about them is slow. They spend their days feeding and resting at the water’s bottom or surface, only coming up for a breath every 3–5 minutes. Females cannot reproduce until they are 5 years old, and males mature at 9–11 years old; gestation is 13 months, and a calf is born every 2–5 years. It’s not a hurried lifestyle—perhaps this is why they can live up to 60 years old. Manatees have no known natural enemies, unless you count human interaction. Unfortunately, hunting and tour-boat excursions (ironically, to appreciate the mammals) have caused a decline in manatee numbers.
The reefs of the Dominican Republic  create a wonderful habitat for a wide variety of sea life, including four kinds of sea turtles: the green sea turtle (the kind hunted to make soup), the leatherback (the largest living turtle), the loggerhead (found in lagoons and bays), and the hawksbill. These beautiful creatures can grow up to two meters long and come ashore at night by the Parque Nacional Jaragua  from May to October to lay eggs in the sand. Of these four, the hawksbill’s survival is in the most jeopardy because of its attractive shell, which is sold widely in the form of belts, jewelry, and other decorative items.