Out of the glass-free window, I quietly observed with what evident ease our boat fought off the endless surge of water, throwing tons of foam back at the sea and cruising through it all. If only the sickening rhythm of up and down hadn’t shown me who the real prey was. While the whales took their time not showing themselves, I stayed gripped to my seat, knowing my stomach would not resist the sudden lurch it did every time we slid down another wave of the Atlantic. Yet it was fear of my limits and not fear of the ocean that restrained me to my seat. Indeed, there was an amazing beauty and peace in the beat of the water. Now that we were far beyond the coast, the battle the rocks fought was now invisible to us. Another spectacle awaited us: a horizon of blue.
Curiosity brought me at the front of our 18m cruiser. I am pretty good at balance, but the mad movement of the waves saw me half running as the boat turned at a steep angle. The view of never-ending sea was a book in itself, but the raging wind combined with a wish not to test my stomach, soon saw me back inside.
Suddenly a shout rang through the boat: whales! After a short burst of speed our boat come to a stop and at the same time silenced its engines. 4-5 whales were there, their smooth bellies visible to us and their flippers straight in the morning air. It was a scramble of passengers running (and falling) about the ship for a better view or for a photo. Different languages could be heard, as we were all tourists from around the world reunited in the most unlikeliest of places: South Africa.
Appearing and disappearing, it was still a job for our imagination to turn these black blobs into fully grown southern right whales. A little information I picked up: these whales are called as such because they were considered the “right” whales to catch. Indeed, their number rapidly depleted from a whooping 6000 to a worrying 2000. Today, thanks to protective laws (sorry, I don’t remember dates), their numbers are increasing by 7% every year, meaning their population doubles every 10 years. They weigh roughly 50 tons, that’s to say 10-11 African elephants. They also measure a nice 18m. These whales filter water to get to the ant-sized krill which they must eat 1 to 1.5t each day; that’s an amazing amount of krill O.o!
These whales are distinctive by their white callosities which cover the rough areas of their front skin. Those callosities each shelter a wide bacterial/parasitical life. Further information includes that they have 2 ultra-sensitive blow-holes which they use to receive air. These whales eat madly for 4 months and fast for 8. In the winter, they travel to warmer waters of South-America, South-Africa and Australia to mate/nurture (their milk is 10 times higher in fat than cows’) and rest. They give birth every 3-4 years and have a life span exceeding 50 years.
As I was saying, the whale-sighting was a very nice experience, if a tad disappointing for lack of action. There was one time though when a whale came almost at arm’s reach and showed his small gazing eye and his big, slightly stupid looking grin. Imagine having your eye below your mouth, poor guy.
On our way back, we did justice to some free food (first thing free I saw in South Africa!). I felt real confident and tried exercising my balance under the warm gaze of the sun, who had decided to show himself. I took little heed of the biting wind.
Ironically, there were many who felt violently sick, even my mum felt slightly awry…
Filed under: Afrique du Sud