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Whale Tales

What is it about our cetacean friends that transforms a couple of adult(ish) sailors into spastic children the instant they appear?? I've yet to sort it. In British Columbia and Alaska, we have seen humpback whales nearly every day. It's always a treat. They may be transiting, so we see only their backs, breaths, and tails, or they may be slapping their fins or tails, breaching, or eating. We are mesmerized by it all. At each sighting I fetch my camera and capture a dozen or more photos. Noj shoots video clips. We point, exclaim, oooh & ahhh, occasionally hop up and down... pretty exciting stuff.

Recently, while underway, we were running the desalinator to 'make water'. It is necessary to maintain a consistent RPM for the duration of the process, and there are several steps necessary before we can alter this. I noticed a whale up ahead, off the port side, which was clearly going to cross us. I yelled down below to Noj, and told him I needed to turn the engine off. Stat. He blazed through the watermaker shutdown process very quickly and shouted up, “DONE!” I immediately cut the engine and ran to the bow. On the port side, just a few metres out, a ring of bubbles appeared and grew larger. The whale was coming up RIGHT THERE. At the boat. (This is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. Every time.) The whale surfaced briefly and dove immediately under the boat. Incredible. Another time we were watching the whales feeding near an island after we departed Ketchikan. They changed their course and headed our way. We shut the engine down and scanned the water. Then we saw a trail of bubbles headed our way! They passed under the boat. The flukes of one of them were massive... half the length of the Ardea! Awed again.

This is probably a good time to mention, for those of you who may not know, that the Marine Mammals Regulations, under the federal Fisheries Act, make it illegal to disturb marine mammals (whales, porpoises, seals, etc.) and provide strict guidelines for observing and interacting with them. Within 400 metres of any marine mammals is deemed a 'slow-zone' and within 100 metres is a 'no-go' zone. We do our level best to observe these rules. We spend a lot of time moving slowly, tacking/gybing away, or shutting down the engine and floating about while we wait for them to pass. The whales, however, are an unruly bunch and do not obey these strict guidelines. They do, in fact, seem to flaunt their disregard for the rules at every opportunity.

On the best whale day ever, we left our anchorage and immediately saw the first whale of the day, breaching and tail slapping. A most auspicious start to the day, we decided, and set the lines to fish. We were trolling along at a couple of knots when we spotted some whales off to port, and then others off to starboard. They were an adequate distance, so we continued on, maintaining our course. Then, as we approached the point, I heard my favorite fishing sound... pffzzzzt! Fish on! I grabbed the rod and brought in a feisty (and quite plump) coho salmon, which Noj expertly netted. During this five minutes or so of distraction, we failed to notice the whales coming our way. Suddenly we were fully surrounded by humpbacks. I left Noj to subdue the salmon while I grabbed my camera. The whales were on all sides of us – breaching, slapping tails and fins, all of the antics. Half a dozen swam up to the boat, around us, and under us. We were utterly delighted and laughing and snapping photos and taking video for nearly an hour. The most massive humpback we've ever seen swam by, just off of the bow. It was breathtaking in its enormity. The whales eventually moved on and we started trolling again. A few stealthy whales swam our way. By the time we spotted them and stopped, we had no time to pull our lines out of the water. We held our breath as one swam behind the boat, just missing our lines. We were able to continue, eventually pulling up our lines and making our way to the next anchorage. We arrived to find the bay full of humpbacks! More breaches and slaps and general frivolity ensued, as we observed, enthralled, once again.

For us, seeing whales in the wild inspires a fierce interest in protecting them and their habitat. We hope to make a difference in this regard by sharing our experiences and photos and videos and inspiring you to take an interest, learn more, and help in whatever way you are able. Thank you for sharing our experiences with us!

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