Magical nature connection, dolphin and whale watching
People keep asking me about my whale thing.
It started in 2006. I was newly single and some friends and I took a ferry to Spain for a fun getaway – 24 hours from Portsmouth to Bilbao, 4 hours ashore and 24 hours return. All for £4 through a tabloid offer!
What we didn’t know was that the ferry, The Pride of Bilbao (sadly decommissioned in 2010) was equipped to monitor the sea conditions for dolphins!
There were observation sensors measuring sea temperature, chlorophyll production and salinity while on-board experts gave talks on the whale and dolphin species in the Bay of Biscay, and tannoy alerts broadcast any sightings.
The top deck was painted with comparative size indicators of various cetaceans from the Blue Whale down; clever ways for scientists to obtain monitoring data during a ferry journey at the same time as raising public awareness about these amazing marine creatures we understand so little of.
On the outbound sailing I left my friends to some after-dinner privacy and went out to the top deck to watch the sun go down. It was an average sunset but there was a deep calm on deck.
The sea was rolling but quiet with a gentle, hair-ruffling wind. It was a powerfully rejuvenating few minutes, just me, the air and the ocean.
However the tranquillity was shattered by the sudden crack of the tannoy – there had been a sighting to starboard.
I dashed to the right hand side of the boat, scanning the sea. Nothing.
Was I on the wrong side of the boat? The tannoy blasted again, this time with a directional ‘2 o’clock’ location.
And there I saw a spout. Small, quick; a jet of water expelled through the blowhole. A whale!!
The wave of emotion was indescribable.
In the space of 45 seconds I had experienced quiet contentment on deck, irrational anger at the blasting tannoy, a bereft sense of loss at the empty ocean and then pure joy and excitement – all at spotting a fountain of water in the sea?!
That’s when I cried.
To be allowed a glimpse into the life of a creature who spends all it’s time under water (the element of soul), which allows us only fleeting moments to witness a fragment of its existence before disappearing deep into an area of our planet we barely understand is a profound, profound privilege. Unforgettable.
It was a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, a small cetacean I’d not previously heard of. My first whale sighting.
We also saw Sei, Fin whales and then dolphins on the return journey.
Our visit to the Guggenheim museum visit in Bilbao was a mini adventure in itself but for me, the whales I saw en route stole the show, and also my heart.
In 2007 I spent a month visiting my sister in New Zealand where we saw dolphins in Milford Sound and later Sperm Whales at Kaikoura on the east coast. The sperm whales made me cry again but not the dolphins, which got me to wondering…
Apart from the immense size of the whales, perhaps the root of the emotion stems from their disappearance? We left the dolphins, we sailed away from the pod while they were still playing, whereas the whales left us.
Whales briefly interact with our world and then they disappear. With a magnificent flourish of gigantic body and massive tail they are gone from us, hundreds of metres below, where we can not follow. They show themselves momentarily, teasing, tantalising but without giving us a chance to know them.
I wonder how this translates to the human psyche? What is it that we choose to show the world and what of ourselves do we keep hidden in our own depths that the world may not, or only occasionally, be allowed to see?
The moment the tears flowed, Sperm whale breaching, Kaikoura, NZ
The crying thing
So now you know; I cry when I see whales! And probably always will when witnessing these enchanting marine mammals. Nor will I ever be anything but proud of my uncontrollable tears.
Since Bilbao I’ve had the privilege of seeing other whales and dolphins in California, Florida, the Canaries, Madeira and the UK.
Maybe one day my dream of kayaking with Orcas will be fulfilled.
Until then, the few moments I have already been granted with these most majestic of nature’s giants are memories I’ll treasure forever.
And my wild wish for you all is that you may, at least once, see a dolphin or whale in the wild.
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Learn about other animals and wildlife on our wildlife & nature pages.
You can also find out how to see Puffins on the Farne Islands, and what to do if you find an injured seal at the coast.
Kids education Zone
What is a whale?
noun: whale; plural noun: whales; plural noun: whale
a very large marine mammal with a streamlined hairless body, a horizontal tail fin, and a blowhole on top of the head for breathing.
Whale and dolphin facts
- Whales and dolphins are Cetaceans (from the Latin for whale and huge fish)
- The Blue Whale is the largest animal EVER to have lived, bigger than the dinosaurs.
- A Blue Whale’s heart is the size of a VW Beetle and a whole football team can stand on its tongue
- Sperm whales can dive down to 2000m for around 2 hours
- A Fin whale expels up to 970 litres of wee a day, about 3 baths-full
- Blue whales are the loudest creatures on earth, singing at up to 188 decibels, louder than a jet which only reaches 140 dB!
- Orcas are actually dolphins, the biggest dolphin species
- Dolphins can live up to 40 years, Orcas 70 while some whales may live up to 200 years
- Dolphins use clicks, squeaks and whistles to communicate using echolocation
- If dolphins fall asleep they stop breathing and drown so they go to sleep ‘in half’ – half their brain shuts down to rest while the other half stays alert and maintains breathing
- Check out the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Trust for more incredible facts and pictures including anatomy diagrams using these links Whale facts Dolphin facts
Whale & dolphin gifts to buy
Click on the images to find great prices on Amazon.
Inspiring children’s books, whale spotting log books or marine mammal ID guides.
The Snail & the Whale board book for kids
Whale watching logbook/journal
Guide to the Marine Mammals of the World