Trip Start Apr 08, 2010
48Trip End Jul 08, 2010
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The world's 4th largest whale at up to 67 feet long, sperm whales have brought notoriety to the coastal town of Kaikoura where a large number exist today and the majority live there year-round. Unlike most of their cousins, sperm whales have teeth, along with a very small tongue and a throat large enough to swallow a shark or giant squid whole. They have the largest brain of any animal and also produce a clicking sound that is by far the loudest noise of any animal. Not as majestic as I remember them looking in my bedroom posters, this species reminded me more of a cement barricade on a highway shoulder in a construction area.
With a constant, gray drizzle, we boarded the Whale Watch boat optimistic that clearer skies awaited us off the coast. We departed the South Bay and journeyed about 15 minutes to where the ocean shelf drops off to a depth of 6,500+ feet. It is in these deeper waters that the male sperm whales roam. We were off to a slow sighting start as the sun finally emerged but were entertained by the nearly extinct Albatross showing off their swagger as they glided through the sky and skimmed the tops of the ocean water like skipping rocks.
We stood at the helm of the boat rocking up and down with the swells until we were alerted to, "Hold on - A whale has surfaced!". The boat cut to the right and clipped its way to where a log-like structure floated on the horizon. Every 10 seconds or so, a heavy mist of water was sprayed from the whale's blow hole. Minutes later, the whale arched its back and took its last breath in preparation for a deep sea dive. Right as the whale disappeared below the ocean's surface, the tail emerged in a rise and fall series like a scene straight out of Animal Planet; it was extraordinary
This pattern continued for the next 3 sightings we were fortunate to experience (a typical sighting is 2 a day). Sam, in his usual cerebral ways, was the best photo assistant as he would impeccably time the whale's breath pattern and dive to help me capture the shots. The entire sequence lasted only about 15 seconds, so needless to say, there wasn't much margin for error.
Whale watching was an unforgettable experience although I must admit, I fantasized seeing more ... perhaps an idyllic scene where a sperm whale met a migratory friend, an orca or blue whale, whilst a family of dolphins soared above the ocean in a sunset painted sky. I guess there are some indelible images from our youth that cannot possibly be met, no matter how majestic the real thing.
*If you're at all interested, check out Wikipedia. Fascinating creatures.