Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Close Encounters Of The Forty Ton Kind

I ran across a site called Earth Touch while eating lunch. It's a web network for wildlife photos and videos, which are downloadable in HD format. A diver named Barry Skinstad provided this compelling account of the world's biggest mammal, along with a bunch of pictures:

A female whale, seemingly enjoying the company, links up with me and follows me around, careful not to swipe me with her huge fluke.

This morning, after an easy launch, we headed out to sea near Cape Infanta, on South Africa’s Western Cape coast.

In great conditions, with no current to speak of and clear water, I jumped overboard to do some snorkelling, albeit somewhat apprehensively with all the whale activity around, wondering what I would do if one swam up to me.

The boat was drifting about 300m (984ft) away when, out of the blue, a huge black and white shape emerged.

As it got closer I realised that this was the head of a gigantic 40 ton (36 tonne) whale, and the white markings were the callosities, or patches of rough skin, that had formed on her face and head.

At first I froze, afraid to move a muscle, as this massive mammal swam right up to me. But as we came eyeball to eyeball, it dawned on me that she meant me no harm.

After a few minutes I realised that she seemed actually to be enjoying my company. Every time I moved away she followed; every time I dived to the bottom she followed me down and lay on the sand next to me, and as I resurfaced she followed me again, breaking the surface next to me and then just lying there, apparently happy to have me by her side.

It was impossible to get away.

The rules about getting up close to whales are always top of mind, but thinking back on it afterwards, she was the one that found me and seemed to adopt me.

What struck me about this experience was how gentle she was and how she knew exactly where I was at all times during this encounter. Whenever I drifted past one of her flukes she would tuck it under her belly so as not to strike me with it, then turn and position herself so that I was next to her massive head. She seemed to be quite content to have me hovering in the vicinity of her watchful eye.

There are no words to adequately describe this amazing encounter – simply put, the most incredible experience of my 25 years of being in the sea.

Not sure what kind of whale it was--it looks like a humpback.


isabelita said...

What a wonderful relief and contrast, looking at this lovely creature instead of the horrible old conservative white men in the previous photos. Horrific to consider that they will continue to push activities that will eventually wipe out the whales.

MarcLord said...

Hi Iz,

Thanks for pointing that out--I had been doing some deep Karl Rovian meditating on the state of our world in the clutches of a third decade of dead-ending free market capitalism. One I had the previous post finished, without realizing why, something made me want to look at whales. Now I know why.

I hope we somehow, some way figure out how not to wipe out the whales.