From the deliciously perplexing soup of childhood knowledge, whales emerged triumphant.
The whirling haze of Dinosaurs and Dragons, Fairies, Father Christmas, Unicorn, Narwhale, Heaven and Space, began at some point to clear, and I remember the thrill in discovering one momentous whale fact after another.
Not a fish!
The biggest animal to have existed EVER.
I learnt that whales are huge, they are real, and they are here right now, many of them living beneath the very waves that lapped at my jelly shoed toes.
And so began a lifetime of largely unsuccessful ‘whale watching’. Early disappointments included Cornwall, Norway, and mizzly Scottish Islands; followed by ill advised boat trips in Sri Lanka, Bali, Australia etc.
I caught glimpses of spouts and flashes in the distance but mostly I listened to others recounting tales of their close encounters from the boat I wasn’t on.
Things changed at last a couple of years ago when I was in Svalbard.
Gliding through the freezing water next to our boat the blue whale mother and her calf were so close that Eric Esterle – the incredible photographer – who was standing by my side, couldn’t get a good shot.
I won’t ever forget that moment, sailing over the Arctic Sea, when the whale spotting curse was broken and I have had the joy of being close to many whales since.
The thing is that even when you are with people who see whales every day – who watch them and monitor them – people who don’t see them as romanticised legendary creatures; there is always wonder and excitement in the moment when you spot and watch these wonderful animals together.
Every time is a powerful shared experience, which brings a tear to my eye as well as those eyes of the most seasoned scientist.
To me the blue whale represents the beauty and magic of the natural world, an icon of nature in all its power and fragility.