November 25, 2012

Oh yes, whales in the lagoon! Oh no, whales in the lagoon...

Jamie went ashore this morning to meet with Bob, the village elder who is shepherding us during our visit. He came back to Totem bubbling with information, and after reeling through what he learned, saved the most interesting for last: a pod of whales was in the lagoon! Not only that, but the villagers were eager to take us to see them. Wow- and, yes!

And yet- "oh, no." The flip side of this exciting news is that the whales appear to be stuck. They are inside a small circular reef, maybe a half mile across, which is then inside the larger lagoon of the Hermit islands' barrier reef. They've been there for 6 days.

The villagers haven't seen this happen before: they are concerned for the whale's welfare, and have already tried to get them out. They have more than the usual lineup of dugout outriggers at their disposal, since a fleet of small fishing boats was provided to them by the Chinese fishing company they supply with live fish (the boats have a well, so line caught fish can be kept alive and transported to a trap until the mother ship pays a visit to the lagoon). But despite attempts to both lead, and to herd, they haven't been successful at getting the whales out of the lagoon.

The villagers wanted to know if we could help, but how can we possibly help?

Thanks to our friend Emmanuelle on s/v Merlin, we've been connected with a cetacean research & rescue organization in Australia (quick plug: Emmanuelle's gorgeous Dean 44 catamaran is for sale & ready to go in Brisbane! I think the details are at merlinsvoyage.com... someone please correct the address in the comments if needed). We can't get online from here, but we knew Emmanuelle- who has a doctorate in marine biology- could help hook us up with the right people. Check! And so we have traded email with ORRCA, and hope to have some guidance for the best path to take soon.

While we share info on the scene here and wait for feedback, it's impossible not to be wowed by what we experienced this afternoon. With Bob and Mata on board, we navigated out to the small circular reef. Almost as soon as we entered, the whales approached us directly. Groups of two or more would pass by the dinghy, while others stood off together- almost as if they were waiting their turn. A cacophony of chirps called out. After some thin jokes about becoming whale snacks, it was too exciting not to get in!

It's hard to explain what it's like to look at a whale, and have that whale look straight back at you. It is both exhilarating and a wee bit terrifying. To feel keenly observed, and to feel very, very small in their presence. These aren't the giants of the cetacean world, but they're no shrimp, and it's impossible not to feel a little intimidated when they hurtle by and check *you* out from just a few feet away.

Looking at our references on board, we're pretty sure they're false killer whales. (Jody R-M., are you reading this? You probably know exactly what they are! Throw us a comment with your opinions if you see this!). False killer whales are actually ocean dolphins, not whales- like orcas, minkes, pilots, and other dolphins commonly referred to as whales. Whatever. It is a mindblowing, and will probably be one of our most memorable experiences from this journey.

3 comments:

  1. Its hard to tell from the pic, but they could be false killers. They also could be melon head killer whale (this is very possible) or pygmy killer whales (although doubtful on the pygmy as they like to be deep). The dorsal is fairly upright, whereas a false usually is hooked back...but that could be just the individual uniqueness of that whales dorsal. My bet is that you are right and it is a pseudorca. They are widely distributed in that area. If you get anymore pics, post them. So fascinating and will be anxious to hear more news on their plight.

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    1. Jody, I've got more photos on Flickr now- much better views of the whales! Take a look and let me know what you think. http://www.flickr.com/photos/giffordclan/tags/whales/

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  2. Fingers crossed they make their way safely to open water. How awesome is it that people actually notice and care about the welfare of these animals?

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