Friday, July 27, 2007

Extreeeeme Whale Watching

After our day with the elephants, we thought it would be nice to go and visit the elephants of the sea... aka whales. We went on a cruise along the St Lucia estuary where we saw a few crocodiles hanging our along the shore and then we pulled up reasonably close to a whole bunch of hippos resting in the mud and giving us nasty looks. Apparently, in a battle between a hippo and a croc, the hippo will win by ripping parts off of the croc (we saw pictures) so the crocs tend to leave them alone.

After the cruise, we went whale watching, but this wasn't your namby-pamby east-coast oceanography-intern, "aren't they magestic?" whale watching. It was extreeeeme whale watching, bordering on whale harassment. There are no jetties out into the Indian Ocean at St Lucia, so we started from the shore on a boat that was then pushed out and we were given very specific instructions for how to hold on to the seat followed by "make sure you hold on tight, or this is going to hurt." The skipper guns the engine and we start flying out across the big waves coming in to the shore, trying to hit them fast enough to fly over them and he did that - we spent several seconds airborne before we made it past the breakers. Leslie lost her grip and nearly went over the side but she was able to grab on to another passenger until we slowed down and she could get a better grip. Finally, we were off at full speed to look for the whales. At this point, I figured that I was not going to take any pictures since the salt water would really mess up my camera (turns out, it wouldn't have mattered, but that's a different post...)

In the distance, we saw a humpback breaching and we zoomed over toward the site where he had jumped. The skipper was careful to not approach too quickly or get too close - at least in the beginning. We soon found 3 humpbacks swimming near each other and we followed them for a while. They would spout a couple of times, then dive deeper, then come back up and spout a few times. Soon the skipper was bored with this and brought us in very close to the whales - about 30-40 feet from them - which made them dive a little deeper to get away from us. After about 30 minutes of this, we spotted some more whales in the distance and we zoomed off after them.

This time, there were five humpbacks in a small group. One was doing fin slaps on the surface every once in a while and after a couple of minutes, one of them leapt out of the water and fell ker-splash just on the port side of the boat. Too bad I was looking out the starboard side trying to keep my lunch in its proper place. I turned around in time to see the large splash, but I missed the breaching. At this point, the skipper was ready to play as well so we were either right next to the 5 whales or about 10 feet behind them as they swam along. Once, they all came up and spouted at the exact same time - five whales in a row. It was like the Blue Angels, except, well, it was actually very different, but you get the idea.

After another 20 minutes of zooming up right on top of the whales, we headed back to shore. Coming in over the breakers is much easier than going out though any time that the boat comes to a stop by gunning it up onto the beach, you're going to have an sudden stop. In the end, we saw plenty of whales but unless you're really into fast and jerky boat rides, I'm not sure I would recommend it. The salt water would really damage any camera equipment so unless you have some sort of protective case, you can't really count on getting good shots. Hence, no pictures. Interesting stories though :)

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