I'll never forget the first moment a saw a whale in the wild....it was an encounter that most people would hold in their mind's eye. It was cold day in the 1990s, I must have been about 11 years old and Dad took us to the cliffs to our first encounter with a killer whale, it was stranded at Pegwell Bay and was later euthanised. It made such an impression on me, how big this mammal was with humans dotted round beside it and how utterly heartbreaking it was to see it stranded. My next encounter was in 2011 on the same beach and this time a 45 foot sperm whale had washed up and despite efforts to save it, it died and the post mortem later revealed that it had died of starvation.
The impact of seeing these mammals both on the same beach is something that has always stayed with me. I have had a deep love of the sea, my Aries fire is called to the cool of the ocean. I am utterly fascinated by life under the water especially on our shores and it was always a dream of mine to have underwater housing to explore life under the surface. And more potently, ocean activism and supporting ocean charities has woven into the core of how much business is built for purpose.
In more recent years, I've had distant encounters with whales when I have travelled in Iceland and Arctic Norway. I know to look for gulls gathering and diving out to sea, they have found fish and it is likely that whales will be close by too. You have to watch for their blow and it is easy to spot, blasting above the horizon and then if you're lucky you will see them diving and their fluke before they disappear into the depths of the sea.
The first time this I ever saw them from land was in Iceland in early 2018. We'd arrived early for the plane home and so went to the nearby coastline at Reykjanes, I was watching the sea and it was a pretty wild way and then suddenly two whale blows showed up and they surfaced for a moment!
The next time was in Iceland again and this time, after several failed attempts because of weather cancellations, a sustainable whale watching tour went ahead from Husavik. We spent ages heading out into the ocean and I started to think we might not be lucky and at that moment there was a commotion on one side of the boat and a humpback whale was passing right under the boat! I had my telephoto lens on, so was only able to capture a shimmer of this beauty, I never expected to see them so close! And then we were lucky enough to see 2-3 more whales surface and fluke!
They taught us a little about behaviour and said that this mark on the surface means that the whales have taken a deep dive and may not surface again for 6 minutes or more and could have travelled some distance. This did in fact mark the last moment we saw the whales on this trip.
When we were travelling in Arctic Norway we heard rumours that there were killer whales in Reinefjord, that some folk had an encounter kayaking the week before. We were so excited as our cabin was built over the fjord on stilts into the sea. We spent every moment gazing out onto the fjord but didn't see them. But on our last morning driving away to the airport, I spied the tell tale sign of a cluster of gulls out to sea and then I slammed on the breaks as three orca surfaced! We were all screaming 'ORCAAAAAAAAA' and tears were flowing. They were some distance out but it was clear to see that there were two adults and a calf. We weren't able to stop for long as we were on the way to the airport but were then in a much more euphoric state at 4am after that encounter!
Whilst in Iceland earlier this year, we kept checking the weather forecast and decided to make a 4 hour journey to join a whale watching tour from a tiny village called Olafsvik in Snaefellsnes. We were booked to go out at 2pm as the morning boat was fully booked, and as we spent the morning out hiking parts of the coastline, the wind kept picking up and the intensity of the snow forecast for later started to draw in earlier. We were notified that the tour was cancelled and so we decided to make the journey back to our main base. We were travelling along the north of the peninsular and my eyes were glued to the sea, Mark was driving and I spotted a blow right by a pull in, it was utterly freezing but I leapt out the car, scrambled the sand dune and watched two humpbacks absolutely feasting on fish not very far from the shore. This was shot at 400mm, so I think stands as the closest land based encounter I've had so far!
And so my love for the whales is one that has endured and so when I got to know the charity Whale Wise, I was thrilled to be able to help them fundraise for a new drone and am absolutely blown away to be heading out to spend some time with them at the end of this week.
I feel I have really grounded or perhaps floated with my passion for the blue planet, the impact that I want to be able to make through doing the work that I do always comes back to the sea. It is an area I want to learn more about and the weekend after I get back, I am going to be completing my Marine Mammal Medic training with British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) with the course having a mix of cetacean physiology and hands on training with life size whale, seal and dolphin models.
With the climate emergency so rapidly unravelling around us, it is utterly vital that those of us that are in a position to use our time on this planet as a force for good, step up, in every way possible in every area of our lives. I feel like this is just the beginning of my life's work in this area.
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