7.1 A humpback whale
Photographed from the Polar Pioneer.
One afternoon in 2002 some of the zodiacs took a short tour from Neko Harbour but noticed that others were hovering around close to the ship. What was encouraging them to circle around in that somewhat erratic manner? It soon became apparent as we approached that there was a minke whale there flirting with the zodiacs. We had already experienced some social interaction with humpback whales when we were on board ship, but this was clearly something new. It would surface and blow and then show us its dorsal fin. Then it would slowly roll so you could see its white underbelly and it would dip under the zodiac and slowly disappear. Everybody is craning their necks to see where it will emerge next and it always appears in the most unexpected place.
In due course we decide to go and look at some seals on an iceberg but it is soon apparent that our friend is accompanying us. The performance is repeated almost in slow motion. What is that brown stain on its underbelly? Is at an algal growth, the remains of its last meal or has it rubbed on something rusty? Can we, like Dr Doolittle really
communicate with the animals? Or is it like instrumental music that you feel rather than hear? We quickly conclude that our friend has never heard of the Japanese whaling industry. If this, as the Japanese Minister for Fisheries is reported to have said, is the cockroach of the sea, imagine how a seabird must soar or a porpoise play! It is these hunters that give science a bad name and who should inherit the curse of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner: it was he who shot the albatross.
In 2008 we had a somewhat similar interaction with humpback whales although the zodiac that I was in did not get nearly as close as we did to the minkes in 2002. It was appalling to recall that humpbacks are now on the Japanese fisheries 'Wanted' list.
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