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Narwhal watercolour by BvP

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.

The evolution of Pakicetus.

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.

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Humpback painting by BvP

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.

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Watching for whales in Svalbard

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.

This was her tail.

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Blue whale spout

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.

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Humpbacks in Patagonia
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Humpback breath stinks
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Humpback nostrils in Patagonia

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.

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Blue Whale watercolour by BvP

1 thought on “Whales”

  1. This was such a beautifully written, romantic and exciting post B.
    It’s really made my evening

    Sent from my iPhone


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