Part 2: Whales
During this past summer in the Southern Hemisphere, two, possibly three, Sperm Whales Physeter macrocephalus rested and fed in the deep water channel off Kaikoura on New Zealand's South Island. Whilst we were there for four days during the first week of March, late summer, the expensive "Whale watching" trips were well supported by the many visitors to the area. These trips came with free alternative trip should the excursion be cancelled to bad weather (as was ours) and a full money back guarantee if a whale not seen. Sounds very good but then you have to remember that the local "experts" know that the whale is on the surface re-filling its lungs for anything up to twenty minutes before taking its next forty minute feeding dive. With usually at least three boats on the water from almost first light it is not long before one of them locates the whales to pas the message on. Then it is simply a case of timing as the whale will almost certainly breach in the same general area. Watch the whale dive then go away to look for dolphins and come back in time for the next surface. Everybody gets to see at least one whale (no refund necessary) and, if you are lucky, possibly a second viewing.
When it comes to photography it seems a mixture of experience and luck. Yes, you can get very close as we did and lie parallel to this great mammoth of the sea. In our case we saw two Sperm Whales looking like a resting nuclear submarine less conning tower in their dull, matt grey colouring. I remembered reading years ago that when whale watching the hunters could always tell if it was a Sperm Whale by the blow-out of breath which always angled forwards. Ours did; quite pleasing to be reassured. Next, immediately before diving, the whale will arch its back to give prior warning but, even so, I was amazed at how quickly the animal submerged.
Everybody wants to see, and photograph, the iconic picture of the whales's flute up in the air. Our first whale gave an angled image but on returning from our interval detour there was already another boat on station in roughly the same position as our previous viewing. We were forced to rest behind the whale. Luck or experience? It may nor have been the best position to see the whole whale but we were perfectly place for when the whale dived. Even so, as above, it is so relatively quick that there is very little time for any camera adjustments.
The return of Whale 1: