(click on any photo to enlarge it)
Friday, August 31, 2012
Meet the Whales
(click on any photo to enlarge it)
You don't have to re-read Moby Dick in order to know that the whales, the Kings of the Sea, have always fascinated man. Whales have roamed most of the earth's oceans for ages, and their fat, meat and bones have been an important source of food and raw material.
In this post I'm focusing on whales I've encountered in my trips, mainly in the Arctic and Antarctic oceans, but also off the coast of northern British Columbia.
As a rule if thumb, let me say you prefer to see a whale from a distance. Well - at least a certain distance! Jonah can tell you more about that. We'll get back to that important recommendation. But let's start mildly - The extent to which the Whale and mankind history are tied together can be apparent in this picture, taken on Ellesmere Island of a structure that served its inhabitants some 1,200 years ago:
The natives of Ellesmere hunted whales for personal or communal consumption, and boy did the use every piece of it - for food, weapons, jewelry, and structures. Only a few unusable bones were left.
The whales of the Arctic Ocean near Svalbard, north of Norway, were not as lucky. Early books describe the ocean as packed with roaming whales. But in the mid 18th century European hunters discovered the value of their fat - used for oil that energized the early stages of the Industrial revolution - and started slaughtering them in masses, leaving large mass graves on the island. Now imagine how spooky it felt to get to the shore of this remote island in your kayak, step on the ground and see this!
Most whales are large, and when you see an Orca, or as they are also called - Killer Whales - coming, you're most likely to be happy you see them from a large boat. Look at these, coming straight your way:
And what's wrong with this following picture? You're right - there are two kinds of whales here! (as can be seen by the different fins and tails) These were three Killer Whales harassing a smaller whale. They ended up letting it escape, but if you spend long enough time on the Arctic ocean you sometimes see blood-red water, too, as the end to that harassment game.
But let's get some more action!
Sometimes, though, you sit in your kayak, paddling happily in the Inner Passage off the coast of British Columbia, when you see a big fish, the size of a bus, looking at you and taking a dive:
"Hmm", you say to yourself, "I hope it's not going to dive right under my kayak and emerge from the water exactly 10 feet away!" "There's no way I'll be able to instinctively take a picture of it because I'll be all shaking with panic!"
Well - I'll do anything to keep my blog's readers happy!
Did you see that? That's the result of years of practicing yoga: sit straight in your kayak, turn your upper back almost 180 degrees to the right, twist it slightly to the left so that the person in the back seat of this double kayak does not block the picture, shoot your camera, and say "Ohm", I mean, say "Oh My God!" All the while making sure the kayak stays stable on top of the huge wave that Killer Whale made when it emerged under you. Then go and tell all your (girl)friends.
So the northern seas seem too crazy? Don't even ask what happens in the Antarctic ocean, maybe 50 feet from your kayak!
And they say you need a strong heart because paddling for 12 hours a day is tough! Oh no, baby - It's the whales!
But sometimes, being close and at water-level pays off, when you see a mama and her two little ones having fun in the water!
Read my post Seal with a Kiss to learn about less scary animals of the Arctic and Antarctic oceans.