Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Whale or log?

After Christchurch, our last stop on the South Island was Kaikoura, a town which is practically synonymous with whale watching. Just offshore is a deep marine canyon, fed by two ocean currents, which provide the environment and nutrients to support an abundance of marine life, including whales.

I had kind of the wrong idea about whale watching. I sort of thought we would be just ambling about on the ocean, enjoying some picturesque scenery, and if a whale popped up, hurrah! In fact, it's a lot more goal-oriented than that. They use radar and GPS tracking to locate a whale (sperm whales in this case), and then time when it dives. I didn't know this, but apparently they have a pretty regular schedule of diving down for 45 minutes to an hour, then surfacing for a bit, before diving again. I suppose I thought they cruised around on the surface (maybe other kinds of whales do), but they're actually only up for short periods, so you'd probably be out of luck with my "wander around" whale-finding strategy.

This single-mindedness annoyed me a bit. We headed straight for the spot where they had tracked a whale to, and they announced that the whale had dived about 15 minutes before. So, knowing that they dived for 45 minutes to an hour, that meant they knew we would just be bobbing around on a featureless ocean for 30-45 minutes, waiting for the whale to come back up. While we were waiting, two boats came up behind us. So I was annoyed, thinking that if we had been on one of the other two boats, we could have come straight to the same spot, spent less time waiting around, and (as it turned out later), had more time seeing other marine life. They guarantee 80% of your money back if you don't see a whale, so it just felt like they were taking no chances, preferring just to sit there waiting for a whale rather than do something else in the meantime and risk somehow missing it.

For the record, Jules felt that the waiting around for the whale was agreeably suspenseful, so maybe I'm just being curmudgeonly.

An albatross spotting while waiting
After my seasickness on Doubtful Sound, I was a bit nervous this time and took a seasickness pill. I don't know if it worked or I wouldn't have got sick anyway, but it wasn't too bad. However, while I may be Official Road Trip Photographer, Jules was nominated Official Boat Trip Photographer to spare my stomach.

Finally, a puff of water announced the presence of a whale. There was huge excitement at this, as you can imagine. Unfortunately, most of the time you could have chucked a big log in the water and told me it was a whale, and I would have been none the wiser. Some old guy turned to me as we were looking at the whale and said "Magnificent, isn't it!" I just gave him my standard, tight-smiling "Mmm...", because I was secretly thinking that it was a bit crap.

First sighting

What the whale looked like 99% of the 10 minutes or so it was on the surface. Actually, that's being generous, since it wasn't making the puff of water most of the time
It only really looked whale-y when it arched its back, flipped up its tail, and dived back down to the bottom. And I must confess, this bit was pretty cool. Jules did a great job capturing it, using a rapid-fire technique (I tend to fuss around composing the shot and then miss most of the action at such moments). I even made my very first GIF of it!

At least the whale wasn't beached as though.

After the whale had disappeared, we steamed off to a guano-covered island (you could smell it from the boat) to see another colony of NZ fur seals. So cute!

And then came the best bit of all - we sailed off to find a whole pod of Dusky dolphins. There were tons of them, and they were incredibly playful. They were leaping out of the water (really high sometimes), twisting around in the air and landing on their backs, swimming in packs of three to five in perfect co-ordination, coming right up to the boat. It was so cool! I take back all my petulant #firstworldproblem grumbling about the whale, because this was amazing. (Although I will note that, had we not been hanging around so long waiting for the whale to surface, we could have stayed longer looking at the awesome dolphins.)


  1. They guarantee 80% of your money back if you don’t see a whale. On the other hand, they don’t guarantee what percentage of a whale you will see.

    I have to say you still make a tale of whale waiting very entertaining.

    Those dolphins look so free, especially that third to last one. Nice pictures.

    1. The dolphins were amazing. I know you shouldn't anthropomorphize, but they really looked like they were putting on a show for us and having fun!

  2. Wow - those dolphins look amazing. I told my friend what you'd said about the whale and she said, "That's exactly how I felt!" - so you are not alone, haha. xx

    1. Ha ha, glad it's not just me! Which friend?

  3. My friend Jenny. (I worked with her at CPD and she is the founder of the book club I went to until recently.)


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