Sperm whales and dusky dolphins – Monday 5th March 2012


Will we see whales today? Will we even get to go out on the boat? Yesterday, the office was empty, all trips were cancelled due to rough weather. But, this morning, from our verandah, the bay was totally calm, the trees still, and the snow on the mountain shone against a blue sky.

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The early snow contrasts beautifully with the green in the valley. Even though it is two months early, I am thrilled it has come. There is no change in temperature, just exquisite wonder when you look up.

The “Whale Watch” building is located next to the railway, which runs along side the beach. The road is called Whale Way! Great joke!

In contrast to yesterday the office is buzzing. Yes! The boats are going out. We are entertained by a DVD narrated by David Attenborough on the life of albatross and then another on whales. I miss much of the second DVD as a lady tells me all about her merino possum jumper, which, on the advice of her husband, she has left in Brisbane, and she hopes she will see whales today, because she does not want to come again tomorrow, because she would like to keep any boat trips to a minimum…

It is going to be rough today, they warn, lazy swells of 1.5 m. The gift shops does a good trade in sea sickness pills.

As soon as the catamaran leaves its moorings, you know they are right, but after five minutes I become used to the movement.

It takes a little finding, our first Sperm whale, but when it comes to the surface, everyone is excited. An airplane and a helicopter join us for aerial views.

There’s a chasm, thousands of meters deep, just off shore. Sperm whales can live in this area all year round on the rich marine life. They eat giant squid. Remember the giant squid specimen in Te Papa Wellington? It’s a monster and Sperm Whales eat them! They eat sharks too! They spend an hour deep in the ocean, hunting. Then return to the surface to breathe for five minutes before diving back for a further hour! The trick is to find a whale who has just surfaced and get the boat close enough for clients to get out and take their photos, safely, in that 5 minute window.

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As it rests on the surface you can see its square nose and just about the length from this nose to its hump. The tail remain hidden from view. They breath every 15-20 seconds, blowing a slight puff of water. At times the waves are so tall, I lose sight of the whale completely. How can you lose something that is 50 feet (15 or even 20 meters) long? Other times, our boat rides high and we get a fabulous view of the whale low in the water.

The highlight of our viewing is his dive, for dive he must! After one last breath, he arches his back and begins the vertical descent. For us, the magnificent tail now rears out of the water, a horizontal platform flipping to a vertical flag and down he goes.
Magnificent!

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We are quick to find whale number two. It seems ages that he floats, breathing. A sea lion swims nearby hoping the whale might drop a tidbit. But inevitably, he has to dive, raising his massive tail in salute.
Our third whale was already diving as the first passengers (including me) get on deck. We are lucky enough to see his dark tail signal his return to the deep, dark chasm.

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We cruise on for some minutes because Dusky dolphin are in the area. Around 200 dolphin leap and swim in an incredible display of fishing! The sheer number of them, made even more remarkable because Hector’s dolphin and even bottle nose are mixed in the crowd. Honestly, I only identified the dusky ones.

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At times they leap clear of the water, intent on making the biggest splash, perhaps to frighten the fish. John captures an incredible display on video which I cannot upload, sorry. An individual dolphin leaps 10 times before retracing his steps, still leaping high from the water. Youngsters practice this move too.

It’s an incredible show.

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