Community Work in Dominica with NWS Guide Patrick Dykstra

Patrick Dykstra

21 Aug 2018

Our specialist leader tells us how sperm whale safaris are helping the nation's economy to recover

In September 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall on Dominica, a small, idyllic island nation in the Caribbean Sea. The hurricane caused widespread damage, with its infrastructure crippled and around 90% of the island's buildings being destroyed. With tourism forming a vital part of Dominica's economy, this damage threatened to severely hamper its recovery.

At the time of the hurricane, Natural World Safaris had a number of Dominica trips planned alongside BAFTA-winning videographer Patrick Dykstra, the focus of which would be on the sperm whales who inhabit Dominica's waters year-round. Patrick and ourselves were determined that these safaris would go ahead, which we wrote about on our blog back in October. Thankfully, all six trips were completed as planned, with our clients enjoying some spectacular whale sightings that ultimately led to thousands of dollars being contributed to Dominica's recovery.

But Patrick's involvement didn't end there. We sat down with the world-renowned photographer to find out more about his community work and how the restoration of Dominica is continuing to this day.

Hurricane Maria caused widespread damage to Dominica in September 2017, but you were able to successfully lead our sperm whale trips there just a few months later. What role did you play in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure to enable these trips to go ahead?

We worked closely with the government and our contacts on the ground to be sure that our presence would be helpful and not detrimental to the rebuilding operations. When we arrived, there was no dock in place to park the boat, but everyone pitched in and helped get things up and running. The most important thing we did was bring tourism dollars to the places that needed it most to be able to rebuild. Most places either were not insured, or were insured, but were not able to get the insurance to pay out. Not cancelling our expeditions was critical to the operators being able to stay in business. Thankfully, the guests were fantastic about understanding the situation and taking everything in their stride. As it turns out, it was one of the best seasons we've ever had.

Thanks to the efforts of yourself, Natural World Safaris, the Dominican government and international aid organisations, Dominica is recovering well since the hurricane. How important have whale-watching trips, and tourism in general, been to this recovery?

We spent or donated over $100,000 in the country at a time when no other tourists were visiting. Although that is a small overall number compared to what is needed, it was absolutely critical to the organisations who received that money and has helped them to recover and stay in business.

Although there are plenty of species to be seen in Dominica’s waters – including orcas, dolphins and beaked whales – it is the sperm whales who serve as the biggest draw. What is it about Dominica that makes it such a prime spot for swimming with sperm whales?

The sperm whales in Dominica are unique. They are significantly more social and tolerant than sperm whales in most other parts of the world. If you are gentle and let them approach you, the chances of amazing encounters are unrivalled anywhere else in the world.

As well as bringing in tourism, you’ve also worked directly with local communities in Dominica since the hurricane hit, and particularly with children. Could you tell us about what kind of activities you’ve been involved in?

Each year I spend time working with children in Dominica as it is them who will be in charge of caring for the wellbeing of the lovely island and its inhabitants, both on and offshore, including the sperm whales. We have sponsored numerous marine science education programs across the island over the years, including in 2018. When I am on the island, I give talks in various schools and also take children out to sea for whale watching and education programs. Between funding programs and personally participating in school talks, field days and workshops, we hope to reach children across the island to help them understand the unique place where they live and how fragile it is.

Back in March, you took 60 Dominican schoolchildren out on a boat trip to search for marine life, including whales. How did the kids react to their sightings? Was this the first time they’d had this kind of experience?

For many of the kids, it was their first time on a boat. They were all very excited to go out on a boat, even had we not seen any marine life. They were overjoyed when we were given a nice show from both whales and dolphins on our outing.

How important is it to involve young people in the stewardship of our oceans?

It is so hard to get people to change their habits once they are formed, so if we reach people when they are young, before habits form, it is much easier. If kids are not used to always getting plastic bags or leaving their litter on the sidewalk, then it is easier than changing habits that have already been established. Most adults today did not think about overfishing or plastic in the oceans, but kids certainly will with the right education.

Dominica is known as “Nature Island” thanks to its bountiful flora and fauna. This week, the nation also announced its intention to ban all single-use plastic by January 2019. What can we learn from Dominicans about interacting with and respecting the natural world that we all share?

I was so happy to see that announcement. Because Dominica is a small island that gets a lot of rain, anything left on the ground ends up in the sea within a matter of days. It is so hard to keep plastic bags, straws, bottles etc. from ending up in the ocean and impacting the fish life and the whales. The government decided that the only sure way to do that is to ban all single-use plastic. I hope other places in the world take note!

Below you can find dates and prices for our upcoming sperm whale safaris in Dominica, led by Patrick Dykstra. For more information, take a look through our itinerary.

Trip Details

Hurricane Maria Update

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Dominica on September 18th 2017, causing widespread damage across the island. Despite this, commercial flights operating to and from Douglas-Charles airport were able to resume very quickly, and the road to the capital has since been reopened. The ships we use to sail around Dominica were undamaged and we are pleased to report that the 2018 trips went ahead as planned, while those in 2019 and 2020 are expected to do so as well. Read our article Braving the Storm in Dominica for more information.

Trip Dates & Prices

This safari is run on a small group basis with a maximum of four guests at any one time. This ensures quality time is spent with the whales and that everyone has the opportunity to learn from Patrick’s expertise. 

 2019 Departures Price Availability
 Feb 9-15 From £6,050 per person Sold out
 Feb 14-20 From £6,050 per person Sold out
 Feb 19-25 From £6,050 per person Sold out
 Feb 24-Mar 2 From £6,050 per person Sold out

 2020 Departures Price Availability
 Feb 9-15 From £6,240 per person Spaces available
 Feb 14-20 From £6,240 per person Spaces available
 Feb 19-25 From £6,240 per person Spaces available
 Feb 24 - Mar 2 From £6,240 per person Spaces available
 Mar 1-7 From £6,240 per person Spaces available
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