Sunday, July 31, 2011
Swimming with Whales
“Look, a whale!” my mother said.
I rushed to the cockpit and looked to where she had pointed. We were under sail going into a bay in Lifou, New Caledonia. Sure enough, there was a whale relaxing not far from us. She was floating on her belly, with her small dorsal fin poking out of the water.
Tim suggested jumping in the water with her, so a few minutes later he and I had our wetsuits on, masks on face and fins on feet. I jumped into the water and my dad followed. We let go of the ladder and swam towards the giant mammal.
I had seen whales before, but never gotten very close. I had only been in the water with one once. That was in Panama, and by the time we got in the male humpback had dove under the dinghy and I only saw his flipper and tail, the rest blended in. Other than that, I had only seen whales from the surface. From that point of view you can almost never see the whole body. Now, as we neared this animal, I could begin to make the shape out.
My first impression was that she was small. I suppose 25 – 30 feet isn’t little, but she was chubby too. I concluded she must be pregnant. Her stomach was bulging and there was no other explanation.
I suppose I’m painting an ugly picture, but the fact is she looked totally natural. She was an exotic animal, calm and elegant. She swam slowly towards the bottom of the sea. She then leveled out and glided horizontally through the water. We may have scared her slightly, because she swam away from us. But slowly, as though we weren’t a threat. It seemed to me that the whale merely wanted a little privacy, and that was why she left.
Whales are fantastic creatures and Tim and I were very lucky to have seen one so close.
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