Lance's Journal

Azores -- 30 July

[Glossary ]

Traveling all night into the early dawn. The island of San Miguel can be seen faintly in the distance. Around noon we encounter our first whale of the day, a male with a distinct hump in front of his dorsal fin. Lulling at the surface, he ignores our approach and bellows forth a large cloud of vapor from his blow hole. Turning to face the boat, the whale lifts its head at an angle to the water's surface and bombards the wooden hull with a series of rapid- fire echolocating clicks. [68k .au file] Dropping down slightly below the surface, he glides towards us, rolls over and swims past our starboard side. The form shimmers in the bright sunlight. The white of the whale's ventral surface makes the water a beautiful turquoise just above him. Moving to our stern he continues to languish within 30 feet, laying on his side, occasionally lifting a flipper or rotating his body vertically to poke a large nose straight out of the water. He is in no hurry to fluke. In fact he seems as curious about us as we are about him. It is at this point that Richard suggests that I go in and try to get a look at the whale below water. Anxiously I put on flippers and mask, slip down the ladder into the water and make my way toward the logged-shaped leviathan. He quickly moves away and submerges, popping up a short distance in front of the boat. I hang on to the inflatable as Richard positions me forward and to the side of the 35 foot whale. Using the craft as a blind during our approach, I push away and snorkle a short distance before the sperm whale's entire form comes into view. What a change from the fragmented bits-and-pieces-picture we get of whales from the surface! Shyly he sinks down and away into the blue, only to re-emerge to my right a few moments later, coming head on before turning. Looking right at me, I am struck by the smallness of the eye, raised out from the rest of the body. There is white pigment lining the mouth which is slightly curved, giving the whale a smiling appearance. Flickering sunlight reveals a heavily wrinkled flank. He rolls, exposing the genital pore and full shape of a powerful tail. From this view the jaw seems remarkably thin, almost fragile, as the whale (gliding sideways) passes before me, then on, out of sight.

Hoping for another look, my wish is soon granted as the inquisitive animal returns to where I am now floating, about a hundred yards from the boat. Diving into the clear water, lightbeams streaming endlessly down, I approach with no apprehension. Seeing the whale clearly, our eyes meet once again and I am awed by the feeling of great gentleness from such a large creature.

About an hour later, the same emotion is exuded by a group of three whales, a female and two juveniles, in close contact at the surface. While hanging motionless in the water near them, I hear their clicks [153k .au file] and watch as they seem to touch, sliding their bodies in slow-motion along the full length of each other. They are aware of my presence, and one of them, becoming curious, starts toward me, followed by the other two. But they all pass by -- diving down and away in play.

That evening a yellow crescent moon sinks on edge into the silvery sea behind us, the lights of Ponta Delgada, our destination, twinkle faintly in the distance. Dolphins occasionally arrive to leap and frolick in the boat's wake. Thinking back over the events of the day, seeing, for just a brief moment, the gentle, tender side to the life of whales, I wonder: If those humans who continue the unnecessary slaughter of whales and dolphins could enter the water to see the intimacy displayed by these mammals, would they still have the will to kill ?

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