Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Epic Adventures: Whale Watching

I have always hoped to see a whale in the wild. I don't know why I have fantasized about this so much, but it was truly on my bucket-list and I was determined that when we visited New Zealand that this would finally happen. 

We decided to whale watch on the Pacific coast of the South Island in New Zealand off shore of a town called Kaikoura. Kairkroua was remarkable by itself. It is right on the bright blue water, with mountain peaks in the background, with hobbit-hole rolling hills meeting the shore. It was a beautiful, beautiful place. 

We hopped on a "Whale Watch New Zealand" Tour and were delighted to learn that they are a part of the Australasian Responsible Tourism group and have been awarded for their good work. On the boat, we sat in the main room while our guide who was a Kiwi (an New Zealander) and part of the Maori tribe (the native people of NZ) gave us more information about the whales we would see.

The whales that lived in the waters just off the Continental shelf were sperm whales. Turns out they are as big as the boat we were all piled into and it while it was unlikely, there is a possibility that they could turn us over if provoked. Sperm whales are the largest whales with teeth in the world. While great blue whales are the largest whales in the world, they have huge mouths, no teeth, and tiny esophagus's for sucking in as much shrimp and plankton as they can. Sperm whales have smaller mouths, big teeth and a big throat for swallowing larger prey. In fact, Sperm whales favorite meal is giant squid. Male sperm whales will dive to the deepest depths of the ocean to seek out and battle these giant beasts for their dinner. 

Our guide told us that sperm whales can drop 2,000 feet below sea-level in less than two minutes. Most creatures in the world (including our submarines) would explode if they attempted this feat. Researchers really don't even know how this is possible, but figure it has a lot to do with the 2 tons of oil that is stored in the top, front of the whales head. This oil is also responsible for their name. 150 years ago whalers would kills these whales and marvel at the thick, white liquid coming out of their skulls. They felt certain that the foreheads of these beasts were actually their penises and therefore this liquid was sperm. Go figure. 

Along with more helpful information, our guide ended by telling us that science has only discovered about 10% of what is in the ocean. He reckoned that we know a lot more about outer space than we know about our own oceans and said that it is far more likely that aliens will come out of the water than the sky at this rate. 

The ship had sonar running so that they could track the sounds of migrating whales. The whales that come to Kaikoura are males because the females venture to warmer waters to birth their young. Females also travel in pods and males are not welcome to join them. The waters we were sailing were full of male sperm whales who were there for only one reason- they were hunting. 

When word came that a whale was nearby and might possibly surface, the ship rushed to the location. A whale will only surface for a few minutes and bob like a floating log, spurting out water and air from their blow hole before they disappear to the depths again. Many tours would go out and come in without a sighting at all and that was just the price you pay when trying to see creatures in their natural habitat. I was really praying we would see a whale.

As it happened, we saw TWO!

Both times, we would see the spewing of the blow hole on the horizon and sail as close as possible. We would hover, breathless, as the creature bobbed in the water. You could not look away because right before the whale sinks into the water it would flick it's massive tail into the air for a mighty splash. We did not want to miss this! Incredibly, we saw it twice! 

Joel captured this amazing image!

We were absolutely thrilled. The crew was thrilled. It was an amazing day on the water. But that was not all. We saw giant albatross, blue dolphins, sharks and the mysterious mountains of Kaikoura in the distance everywhere we sailed. 

If you happen to New Zealand and you want to whale watch, this is the place to do it!

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