Those were often the first words we would hear in the mornings over the PA system on our ship. The message would continue to tell us either of the schedule for the day or would be in a more excited tone informing us about the whales that were spotted around our ship that morning. We would quickly look out from our tiny porthole window in the cabin or run to the top deck to get a better view!
We would have to keep our eyes glued to the ocean and our cameras ready! Suddenly one would hear a loud groan and a huge spray of water would go up in the air! People would burst into chatter trying to decide which whale had made the grand show. Was it a humpback? A Minkee? An Orca? What subtype was it?
This baleen creature would come on the surface for seconds as it took a big gulp of water and then go back down for minutes on end. Then again we would hear a loud sound from the other end of the ship – we would run to the other side. It was like the whales were playing with us! We would see the sprays going up all around us! A water show definitely worth watching.
Lets face it, most of us live in cities and there’s a small chance a lot of us will get to see these gargantuan creatures out in open waters. So to put things into a little perspective read through a few of these facts about whales and then ill carry on with my story –
- The Blue whale is the largest animal to have ever lived on earth. The largest one was recorded in the Antarctic ocean and had an estimated weight of 144 tonnes
- Bowhead whales of the Arctic have the thickest blubber of all whales. It can reach up to 70cm in thickness. They also have the longest baleen!! They can reach up to 5 metres in length! Great way to filter out all the yummy food in the ocean!
- These massive creatures surely must be creating a lot of noise right? Wrong! Its not noise! Its music for marine life! Beluga whales make chirping sounds (yes, like tiny little birds!!!), sperm whales are the loudest of them all. Male Humpbacks sing the most complex songs
- Considering we had sessions on Orcas and even saw them I thought id put in a few facts about them as well! Orcas, otherwise known as killer whales are actually not whales, they’re the largest dolphin species. They’re one of the most dangerous predators out there. They eat everything from fish, krill, seals to even smaller whales. Though not extensively hunted by humans, they’re often trapped and trained to become stars at sea worlds and ocean parks around the world.
These creatures are among the most fascinating and beautiful creatures that I have ever seen and what makes it even better is seeing them out in the open, wild and free!
We spent a day at Mikkelsen Harbour and used our zodiacs to go up till a tiny island in the harbor called D’Hainaut Island. This is where I saw the cruelty humans are capable of. We were greeted by whale bones of all shapes and sizes. It was an eery feeling to walk past them, Gentoo penguins on the other hand were happily using the area as a playground – hopping and skipping over the bones with no worry in the world.
The whaling industry was at its peak during the 1700-1800’s. It was a smelly, dangerous and dirty business but one that made people richer than they could have ever imagined. By the late 1800’s whales were hunted nearly to extinction. 1.6 million whales were killed in the southern ocean over a span of six decades. Every single part of this massive creature was used – bones, teeth, blubber and even the baleen! The story of Antarctic whaling is one of greed and excess and ends like most stories of human greed today – nearing a collapse or extinction of a species.
The international whaling commission was finally set up to regulate the industry and make it more sustainable but the reason a lot of companies went out of business was not because of strict rules and laws but because of the lack of whales in the ocean. The industry had wiped the ocean clean (well, nearly). In 1986 commercial whaling was finally suspended and though most countries adhere to this law, countries like Japan and Norway continue to slaughter these creatures annually. In the name of scientific research Japan kills thousands each year. I don’t know what type of scientific research leads to serving of whale meat in high end restaurants though.
While I walked through the whale grave yard on D’Hainaut island my heart went out to the whales who suffered at the hands of whalers in the past and despire efforts from conservation groups around the world – those who will suffer in the future.
It was another day of learning about the ugly truth but nonetheless a day that made my resolve to protect our planet even stronger
For those interested in knowing more about whales I would highly recommend watching the documentary “Blackfish” and “The islands and the whales” . Going to watch the latter myself later today!