I’ve never ever seen a whale up close let alone setting myself up to see one – close or far! On my short break in the Hawaiian Islands in December 2005, I decided that I would do the touristy stuff that I was always afraid to do. One of them is whale watching – a favourite for most tourists visiting the islands. I wasn’t sure how I really felt about it but decided to go on a whale watching tour anyway. When I signed up to go whale watching I thought I’d be sitting quietly at a scenic spot, probably a nice wooden bench looking out on the horizon for a mighty dark blue tail or the fine spray of a whale. Well, wasn’t I surprised to find out that this was not going to be the case. I would be on a catamaran out on the ocean. Now, this was pushing the boundary abit but something told me that fear is sometimes part of the excitement. I was clearly silently scared but outwardly I tried not to show my inner fears. I was scared of the whale swimming close by and causing the catamaran to overturn. I pushed those thoughts aside, settled down and familiarised myself with the presence of the other tourists. I felt comforted by their animated chatting and anticipation of something new and exciting.
Mind you those were Hawaiian waters and I am Papua New Guinean. But that is really no excuse to deny myself what could be a great life or life-changing experience. It was a great day to be on a boat and on the sea. We boarded the catamaran in single file as the crew warned us about holding on to the railings as we entered the boat so as not to fall overboard.
I went through with this whale watching trip because I wanted to see if I would be afraid to be up so close to a whale and secondly, there was security in numbers so why not. The sight of small children on board calmed my nerves. Then it was time to push off. The captain introduced himself and his crew and took us through a safety briefing – this is standard procedure. If this was standard procedure I wondered why we don’t bother to do this in PNG with small maritime vessels even ‘banana’ boats. After the briefing we were off pn our whale watching tour over the deep blue sea for a few hours. Couldn’t remember whether it was 2 or 3 hours.
It was a bright sunny day and there was excitement in the air as we headed out over the ocean. The breeze on my face felt wonderful and invigorating. I was apprehensive and cautious about encountering a whale for the first time in my life. I felt caught between fear and excited anticipation. It was more the latter as everyone in the boat waited with bated breath for the captain’s shout of ‘thar’ she blows!’. My Nikon D50 though was primed and ready to shoot any action at anytime. My heart was filled with so many emotions.
Suddenly the captain asked us to look over to the right side of the boat. Lo and behold! there was the fine spray out over the blue yonder that I’ve only ever seen in wildlife photographs and the movie “Free Willy”. No fanfare just a simple fact of life that was so aweinspiring! There, about 100 yards away was the biggest, ginormous fish or mammal I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve seen a couple of big sharks but not this big! The captain informed us that he could only take the boat to 100 yards of the whale – a green rule I suppose so as not to cause harm. I appreciated that, being an islander myself and always in awe but respectful of any fish large or small – that we all should have our space in this world. No-one has the absolute discretion or right to make another uncomfortable in their own environment. Well, right then Mr Whale was master of the territory and we were but mere spectators. The following are shots I took which I thought were close enough to capture the few magical moments. How brave and privileged I felt then of being so close yet far enough to admire this creature of the deep and not fear it. I felt somewhat liberated.
The pictures were taken over a couple of hours. When the whales dive into the depths of the ocean it takes a long while before they surface again. So we waited patiently most of the time but the waiting always paid off. Next time I go whale watching again I’ll be sure to take a longer zoom lens.
Looking back on that day’s awesome experience, I certainly overcame my fear of seeing this humungous mammal in the wild. I felt thoroughly entertained. I had a whale of a time…