In Kaikoura I went on a whale watching trip. The sea just off this small town is one of only a few places in the world with an enormous marine canyon so close to the coast. This means the waters are different temperatures and an abundance of sealife can be found. As a result Kaikoura is an area of extreme natural importance and the feeding ground attracts many whales and dolphins to the area.
I had always wanted to see a whale, and ever since I joined my choir I have started to take an increased interest in the sea and whales in particular. Whale watching in Kaikoura was therefore on my 'must do' list. Luckily the conditions were forecast to be perfect, and early in the afternoon I boarded the boat from South Bay with 30-40 other eager tourists.
We traveled a few miles offshore to near where the previous boat had seen our sperm whale, and bobbed about waiting for the crew to spot the leviathan. Suddenly a fellow tourist shouted and our guide said "there's the spout!" The whale had risen.
I thought that we only had a minute or so before the big fellow dived down again to eat some more tasty squid, but once we reached him (I am not sure if it was male or female) he just stayed where he was, occasionally snorting through his blowhole, and once or twice shifting weight about a bit. Albatross swung round and circled the boat; their extraordinary wingspan effortlessly steering their huge bodies through the blustery air.
The other passengers on the boat jostled and pushed to try and get photos of the beautiful sperm whale. I stood in awe of it. I occasionally took a snap, but most of the time I was acutely aware that this was his territory. This was his life he was trying to live and could probably do without us humans zooming around and gawping at him. Still, what an enormous privilege it was to see him.
We got even closer. Much closer than I could have ever expected to. Still he remained, expelling air and taking it in over and over again. After what seemed an age signs of movement began. The captain warned us that he would soon be diving back to the feeding ground deep below the waves.
And then he stirred and heaved his great body up and down, and just like the photos I had seen before... his tail appeared. This epic feat of natural engineered loomed out of the Pacific and into the air of that late summer's afternoon. Water cascaded from its edges. It was far smoother than I expected it to be and the power that the whale was capable of wielding was clear to see.
This experience was wonderful and ever since I have thought about that day a lot. I was looking at my photos in April and I was inspired to write something (you may call it a story, I'm not quite sure what to call it exactly) about a whale.
The whale rose to the surface of the grey mass of the south pacific. She was tired. Tired of patrolling and tired of seeking and tired of shuttling backwards and forwards from one end of the ocean to the other. She could feel the ache of time within her entire form. She floated. She rested.
And breathe and blow and breathe and blow and breathe and blow.
The humans had suddenly stopped trying to drag her from the sea, something she had never really understood nor could ever imagine understanding. She was but a whale. She had no yardstick to measure herself by nor comprehension of what riches she had been blessed with. Those scurrying men in their scuttling shells were the scourge of her life and suddenly… they ceased. Now they merely watched. Pumping their foul brown water into her realm with their noisy metal beasts. Like churning and gnashing sharks, cutting up the seas.
She blew one more jet of gas high into the air as an albatross landed nearby. To her west the great rocks of the long island rose from green to black to white. In the opposite direction light rose from the water, turning the sea orange and the sky a violent clash purple and red. Another blast. And again.
Below the waves her magnificence stretched and rolled. Scars from long past skirmishes with man and squid marked her back and belly. Hers was a life of never ending movement. She dives. She feeds. She rises. She rests. She mates. Soon her last calf would be born in the same place she came into the world and the same place all her young had been born.
After a long heavy moan and one more gulp of air the whale stirred. Her head sank and her tail waved goodbye to the familiar sunrise. Down she went to cruise the teeming depths.
I will always remember that day off Kaikoura.