The past few weeks in New Zealand have been hectic! I haven’t had much time to update my blog at all and here is why. The first few days I was here were filled with all sorts of yard work. Ingrid’s property is right on the water and she purchased this chunk of land from her father, who lives in the house next door. He and his wife have since moved to Vanuato and they are trying to sell the house. Unfortunately the house hasn’t sold yet for various reasons. We have been trying to negate those various reasons, hence the work. I have to say though, I haven’t done extensive manual labor in a while and I’m really loving it. Being outside in the gorgeous weather for the whole day is amazing, and getting good exercise and having a feeling of accomplishment is great as well.
Ingrid’s property is really quite gorgeous. The town is called Tutukaka and it is a smaller town in a part of the country called the Northland. The nearest larger town is called Whangarei (pronounced Fungaray) and it is about an hours drive. Whangarei is the largest city/town north of Auckland, which isn’t much seeing that it is pretty small. About the size of Braintree maybe if anyone knows anything about the South Shore. Anyways, Ingrid’s property is up in the hills of the northland. There are two driveways into the property, one for Ingrid and a few other neighbors and one for her fathers property. The one for her fathers property only takes about 5 minutes to drive, with the first part being almost straight uphill. The second half of this driveway levels out on the top of a hill and is pretty bare (at least when I arrived). The second drive way takes almost 10 minutes to drive and goes up and downhill (bothways). It takes you along side a few other properties with a gorgeous view of the ocean, one or two houses and some cows. Ingrids house is situated one one of the better chunks of land, with the ocean facing side being almost all glass. The house, though unfinished is amazing. Tall ceilings, windows on the east and west side and modern furnishings. She has decorated the house with spoils of her travels to exotic countries all over the world. There are a few pastures around the west side of the house, one housing a group of beef cows, that although they aren’t hers respond to her voice and her presence. We often move them from one pasture to another, something they love and will call and moo to her when they decide they should be moved (she’s a softy, so she usually moves them when they want). The house is surrounded by a young garden with tons of native plants, grasses, trees and ferns.
For the past few weeks we have been working off of a list of chores that includes painting, gardening, fencing, planting, digging, cleaning, installing insulation and so on. Her father’s driveway, when I arrived, was bare on the south side except for one or two plants. The area is gorgeous, and on a clear day you can see all the way to the Bay of Islands, a more than two hour drive. Anyways, we have planted over 250 trees along the drive way, which included digging the holes, staking them in and tying them down. Yeah, lets just say that I have visibly noticed a difference in the size of my arm muscles, thank you very much shovel.
It is now officially the beginning of summer here, a degree of weather I am thoroughly enjoying. The temperature is t-shirt weather with a nice breeze, the sun warm, but not hot like in Australia. At night we bundle up in sweatpants and a thin sweatshirt, and sometimes I sit out and stare at the stars before bed. Ingrid says that no one really listens to the weather, and if you don’t like the weather just wait a half hour and it will change. The first few weeks that was totally true, and it would go from cloudy with rain to sunny and warm within seconds. Now, as summer has started to settle in the weather is mostly gorgeous all the time, sunny with only a few clouds in the sky and almost always a breeze (we are on the water, so that’s no surprised). Because we are SOO far from any sort of civilization the stars are unbelievable. Literally the best I have ever seen. There is no sort of light pollution here, and it almost seems as if the sky is a blur of dots rather than a sprinkling of a few handfuls of stars.
We have been into town a few times since I have been here as well, just enough times that we remember there is a town without getting sick of it. The ride down is gorgeous. I say down because it really is. Tutukaka is mostly higher up in the hills with Whangarei being about sea level. I was talking to my friend Matt a few weeks ago and he mentioned that tons of Kiwis are in the rally driving field now a days. I can see why. I even asked Ingrid and she replied that until the 80’s most of the roads in the Northland were all gravel or dirt. Then, there are the twists and turns. I literally hold on when Ingrid drives because some of the turns are so sharp that if you make a mistake you will drive right off the side of a hill. Most of the roads are cut right into the mountain, and on the outside it drops straight down. Also, all Kiwis drive at breakneck speeds because they know the roads around here so well. I have started to become comfortable with the roads as well, so I have caught myself yelling at tourists in ‘road maggots’ who drive slow and (shocker!) step on the breaks when they approach a turn. Down in Whangarei, the town is right on the water and most people are driving around with boats. The Maori are the indigenous people to New Zealand, and unlike in Australia where the Aboriginials are seen as less common and in some places a lower class, the Maori in New Zealand are right up there with the ‘whiteys’. Maori culture is everywhere, with most names of streets, towns, businesses etc. being Maori names. The people are everywhere and I have yet to meet an unfriendly kiwi of any sort.
Now, for the juicy stuff, the orca!! Ingrid runs (with the help of her trustees) the Orca Research Trust. She has a hotline 0800 SEE ORCA that people all over (seriously) New Zealand call to report orca sightings, whale sightings or any sort of marine mammal something or other. When she gets calls for Orca she tries as hard as she can to get to them. We usually get at least one call a day, and sometimes many many more. However, we often don’t go out due to the time of the call, what the person says is going on, where it is and a few other factors such as weather and more. If the call is from far away we go if she is able to get some other boat to stay with the animals. If she cannot set something like that up, then we can’t go because the Orca travel very quickly and unless we know where they are at all times, we are unlikely to find them. If the call is local, then we literally drop everything immediately, hop into the truck no matter what we are doing and drive break neck speeds to where they are. We launch the boat as quickly as possible, get to the animals then can start to slow down. We take pictures, make notes on behavior, weather, conditions and anything else and follow them until weather, lack of fuel or some other factor forces us to leave. So far I have only gone to two Orca calls, but I have been out on the water 4 or 5 times with her now. If it weren’t for people calling, then she would have no idea where they are, so it is very important for her to keep a positive public profile, get her hotline number out there as much as possible and really get the people into the lives of the orca. I have met many people that know the stories of individual orca, know Ingrid’s life history and a few other odd things. It is still really good to see!
Right now at the center is another volunteer Leonie. She got here about a month ago and has yet to go out on the boat with Ingrid. This is because a film crew from the BBC has been working with Ingrid for the past 9 months has been here, taking up space on the boat. Altough Leonie has been here through 2 mass pilot whale strandings, one humpback disentanglement and some other adventures she has yet to get a good look at Orca, especially from Ingrid’s boat. She hails from Germany and has been in the country for 8 months now. Although her English isn’t perfect she has only been speaking for the 8 months although she learned when she was 10, and has only with this trip to New Zealand been putting it to use. She was working in the logistics field when she decided that her everyday life of 9-5 would be the death of her and she needed something different. She always wanted to work with marine mammals and heard of Ingrid and decided to come to New Zealand with the hopes of being able to eventually work for her. Shes just a few months younger than me and very similar to me. We get along real great and she is a regular old work horse, encouraging me to bust ass along side her!
So, my daily updates of what we have been doing are sort of boring as many days have been spent in or around the house working. On days that we aren’t out with the orca we are up at 6:30-7, working till lunch, an half hour or so lunch break, dinner, movie if we aren’t too tired then bed around 8 or 9. Usually I am so tired that I hit my pillow hard and the next thing I remember is waking up. Usually I wake up to the sunrise as it rises right outside my window. It is really gorgeous, and if I walk outside the external door to my bedroom and out towards the water a few feet a get a gorgeous view of the ocean, the Poor Knight Islands which are a few miles or so out and then a few small bays below me where the land meets the water.
Here are a few of the daily logs that I have written on nights that I haven’t completely collapsed into bed. Mostly they are days out on the water, or other extra ordinary day that are pretty interesting.
Thursday, October 14th
We woke up had breakfast and did the rest of the normal morning stuff, like a bit of cleaning, dishes and figuring out what to do for the day. It has been raining cats and dogs for a few days now, so much so that we are worried the plants we have been planting will wash away. Leoni and I were working on installing some insulation in roof when Ingrid casually strolled by and asked us if we would like to go see the Orca. Both of us just looked at her and said yes then she yelled ‘Well get your asses into GEAR’. I figured she would come in screaming and her not doing so threw me off. It was my first day on the water as well, so I didn’t know what to expect and just grabbed my gear and jumped into the truck. My first few days here Ingrid set me up with warm clothing, wet weather gear, a lifejacket, boots and other things for the boat. It all goes in a dry bag that she is lending me which is basically a large stuck sack that keeps out moisture. I also have a collection of different granola and protein bars, crackers and water for when we get hungry on the boat.
We rushed to the marina at a breakneck speed and Ingrid explained the situation. There was only one call and the person said they are dark, there are tons of them and they are in the Whangarei harbor. Usually when we get only one call it means dolphins, but we are going just in case. I guess some calls she has got are really stupid, with people seeing anything from whales, dolphins and turtles and thinking they are orca. This time it turns out that the call was a fluke (haha, not funny maybe?) and they were actually a huge pod of bottlenose. I have seen bottlenose before, I mean I worked with them last year in South Carolina, but the water here is crystal clear and the species of bottlenose I saw in Australia was a different subspecies called tursiops aduncus. These guys are tursiops truncatas meaning they are larger. And damn, they were a lot bigger than I thought they would be. We stayed for a while, and Leonie got in the water to do a bit of snorkeling. Ingrid offered to lend me her wetsuit so I could jump in, but it was a bit chilly for my taste, so we towed Leonie around on a boogie board, watched the dolphins then headed back a few hours later. It was such a great feeling being back on the water, and I was totally soaking it up, especially since the area is GORGEOUS. You can see really far, and most of the area is lush green with hills dropping right to the harbor, almost like in Airlie Beach in Australia. On one side of the harbor forests and homes dot the hillside, while the other side is home to a huge oil refinery and lumber yard. It’s a bit of an eyesore, but not as bad as Gladstone, where I went a few times with Daniele.
Off the water we cleaned up, got the gear back into the truck, dropped the boat off for service in town and then headed home. Ingrid lost her phone a few days ago (meaning not able to get calls for orca) so we rented a metal detector to search a field she walked through before leaving town. Unfortunately we have already searched extensively and this time still didn’t find it, so tomorrow when we go to pick up the boat we will bring the metal detector back and Ingrid can grab a new phone. We watched a few episodes of the tv show Alias before heading to bed.
Tuesday, October 19th
This morning we were up real early, and lucky for that because we got a call about a whale acting suspiciously in the harbor. Sarah, a friend and colleague of Ingrid’s is supposed to come up today with her volunteer to stay for a few days so the two of them can work on a paper they are publishing. After a few frantic phone calls we headed down to Whangarie agreeing to meet Sarah and her volunteer Ingrid at the boat ramp. Sarah brought her dog Rhea with her, so the five of us ad the dog loaded into the boat then head into the harbor. About this time we got a call about Orca being in the area, so after finding the whale (turned out to be a humpback, and the first ever recorded in Whangarei harbor) we tried to drive around to find the Orca. Sadly, we weren’t able to BUT we did have a great time on the water, I spotted a PENGUIN! I had no idea penguins were in New Zealand, so that was quite a surprise for me, and for the rest of the day, whenever we spotted one we slowed down so I could get a good look. We headed back, drove back to the house (it seems that Sarah, though from the UK, has been in New Zealand enough to adopt the Kiwi driving style) and had some delicious dinner. We went for a walk, doing a loop of the driveways before vegging out and talking for a bit then heading to bed.
Wednesday, October 20th
The 5 of us woke up, had breakfast and then set to work on our individual projects. The girls and I went out to do a bit of planting while Indrig and Sarah went to the office to get some work done. At one point I went inside to ask Ingrid a planting question when her father Frits walked by me and said there were Orca. I thought he was joking and laughed, calling him a tease, when Ingrid threw her hand up and told me to hold on a minute. It turns out that he wasn’t kidding and that the Orca were in the Bay of Islands. Although it was really shitty weather we headed out because Ingrid was sick of the computer work and wanted Leonie, Eva and I to get a good look at the Orca.
We took off; Ingrid, Leonie and I in Ingrids truck and Sarah, Eva and Rhea in Sarah’s car. The ride took at least 2 hours, with the help of a bit of traffic. It was once again through very windy roads, and sometimes was sunny, sometimes rainy. Finally we arrived in the Bay of Islands, a very gorgeous place. It lives up to its name and is a large bay filled with islands that seem to jut out of no where. The surf was high, wind and waves were crazy and as Ingrid drives her boat like her truck I held on tight when she lurched us forward into the water. We finally found the orca after almost an hour an a half. I remember that second right now as I write about it. Leonie yelled out Orca and pointed to my right, I took in a deep breath as I didn’t see anything then all of a sudden I saw a tall black dorsal fin cutting through the water. His name was TJ and he was the perfect looking Orca, healthy, big, tall dorsal fin dark black with the white contrast of the eye patch. Unbeknownst to me TJ isn’t a fan of interacting with boats. It’s not that he minds them, its just they don’t interest him. He usually travels with his mother and older brother, but after following him for almost an hour we didn’t catch a single look at them. Turns out, later in the night we got a call saying that Orca were just on the other side of the island we were circling and we just missed them by a few minutes when we left. After sitting in the wind and rain for a few hours we headed back to the boat ramp after quickly stopping at a local Maori cultural point to let the dog off the boat. I got to see a few hand carver canoes that we longer than a school bus and we watched as Rhea goofed off in the water.
Sarah works on dolphins in the Auckland area and surprisingly this was Rheas first times on a boat. Yesterday she was a bit weary, but today she was queen of the pontoons and treated them like her little highway, wandering and circling the boat constantly with expert balance. When we let her out she chased a few birds then attacked a vicious rock in the water, you know, just because it looked at her wrong. Anyways, back at the boat ramp we had an awful surprise. Sarah’s car got broken into and a few gadgets including cameras, ipods, money, headlamps and a few other things were stolen. The girls were pretty bummed out as a sign just around the corner alerted to just such behavior. We loaded up real quick, drove to the police station to find that it had closed its doors as the girls were parking. We drove to another station where she filed a report. As they were doing this we headed to Whangarei to fuel up and grab some pizza.
Waiting for the girls to arrive I set up 5 chairs along the ride in the yard, facing the water. Ingrid got a call in Whangarei saying that there were Orca heading south and she predicted that if we were home before sundown we could see them pass by. Literally, the girls drove up, dug into their pizza box and Ingrid was yelling ORCA!! Cameras and binoculars were grabbed and we sat in awe for a half hour as a pod of 3 travelled slowly by, stopping in the two bays before continuing south. At this point I was in awe, but Ingrid had a feeling there would be more and sure enough a half hour later another pod of about 10 passed us by. This time they were juveniles and like with the first pod Ingrid stared through her binos, calling out names and behaviors to the rest of us. As it was still my first day of ever seeing Orca Ingrid said I should watch the whole thing through binos and I think I grabbed for them a bit to excitedly! I could see them surfacing, rolling and playing. A few younger ones flipped upside down and began slapping their flukes and pectorals against the surface of the water, loud enough for us to hear them up at the house.
It was such a magical day and I had trouble putting the experience to words. Surprisingly it was Sarah’s first time seeing them from Ingrid’s house, so Ingrid sat back with a smirk on her face as the rest of us watched in amazement. At long last we all went to bed after playing with the dog for a bit and talking.
Thursday, October 21st
This morning I woke up to a gorgeous sunrise. So much color in the sky, it was one of the best yet. After breakfast Leonie, Eva and I got to work planting. An hour or so into it I ran in to ask Ingrid a question and Frits told me there was a call for Orca. After a bit of calculations Leonie and I were in the truck waving by to Sarah and Eva. They had to get back to Auckland, so the three of us had a quick goodbye. The weather doesn’t look so good, so I was a bit worried. It is still pretty hazy out and I couldn’t see the Poor Knights when we left. We raced to Whangarei harbor and after about a half hour had to turn around. Even by Ingrid’s standards the weather was far too rough for us. We turned around at the entrance for the harbor, and Leonie go a lesson in boat driving. We loaded the boat on the trailer and Ingrid sat back with a coy smile and let Leonie and I get everything all set for the ride back. We struggled a bit with all of that, but eventually remembered everything. It’s good though, cause now we can do I on our own if need be.
Back at the house we settled in, cleaned the gear up and helped Ingrid with some paperwork. Tomorrow she has a Department of Conservation (DoC) meeting about a whale entanglement from a few weeks ago. After doing a bit of research and such with her it was early to bed for us all.
Friday, October 22nd
Ingrid left at 6 for the DoC meeting. After breakfast, Leonie and I did some fin ID’s on the dolphins we saw last week. After a few hundred pictures we went outside to get a bit of fresh air. We were able to finish all of the planting to the right of the garage, and after bring all of the empty buckets down to the veggie garden and cleaning up we can cross planting off of our list, for now at least. After a bit more cleaning of the outside and garage we decided to go for a walk down to the beach. I had never been to the beach yet, so I was pretty excited. I have heard stories, so it was nice to finally visit. We walked on the side of the road, and soon enough I coud see sand. The beach was a good enough sized one to be hidden, but big enough for locals and a few in the known tourists. It’s a little cove situated between two mini mountains. The water is clearer than crystal clear. The color is something you see in a magazine and I was a little taken aback. Leonie and I walked the length then sat in the sand and talked for a bit. She showed me a little path that leads to a black sand beach and we investigated tidepools there for a bit. The sand was more like small pebbles but it was absolutely gorgeous! There was another lagoon, this time home to what looked to be a kelp bed. I could see in my mind Orca right off the beach hunting for rays and CANNOT wait to get out there with them again.
Back at the house Ingrid soon got back with a truck full of groceries and we all made dinner then settled in for Avatar. She told us the back story to the movie, saying that not only was James Cameron heavily influnced by the deep ocean, but he also stole heavily from New Zealand and the Maori. The Maori language uses a syllable for every vowel and to my surprise it sounds so familiar to the language in the movie. Also, the manuarisms and characteristics of the people are very similar to that of the Maori in the area. Now that I see the country side and plants in the movie, I can pick out a few that are native to New Zealand, from trees and shrubs, to palms and stalked plants. She also said that her step brother and his girlfriend met on the scenes of the movie. She works in the costume department and he works in the model department and they both played pretty important roles. All this info makes the movie seem completely new, it’s crazy how little tid bits like that can change your opinion one way or another.
During the movie I could see the moon slowly rising outside the window. We paused it for a bit so I could grab a few pictures. It was a full moon and a perfectly clear sky, so I grabbed my remote control for my camera, lined up a few shots and presto! There is also a regatta going on right now, from Auckland to the bay of islands, so in the shots you can see the ships lights in the background which is pretty cool ☺
Tomorrow Leonie and driving Frits and Chrissy to the Auckland airport as they are heading back to Vanuatu. They are going to pick us in from Ingrid’s at 6 in the little read car, so after oogling the moon it’s off to bed!
Saturday, October 23rd
Last night Ingrid told us that Fritz is ALWAYS early, so I set my alarm for 5:30 and could hear Leonie’s going off as well. Walking into the kitchen alerted me to the fact that of course Ingrid is already up, so after a quick breakfast we were ready to go. The problem is that Frits and Chrissy didn’t show up until 7. Turns out that they got food poisoning and were both really sick. After a bit we set out on the road for Auckland. Chrissy soon took over driving as Frits wanted to nap, and within a half hour both Leonie and I were asleep as well. I did get a good look at the landscape though as I woke up every half hour or so. Like Tutukaka and Whangarei, the ride down consisted of farm land, rolling hills and thick forests. Entering Auckland as like driving into Seattle as the trees and houses sit on hills that drop right down to the city center which sat right on the harbor. Unlike Seattle it took us a good half hour from that point to get to the airport as there aren’t really any major roads.
After a quick stop at the airport, I grabbed the map, Leonie hopped in the driver seat and we took off. Leonie isn’t used to big cities, so I figured I would navigate and good thing because we ended up getting lost easily throughout the day. Most streets aren’t labeled and there was tons of construction going on. Our first stop was at Mt. Eden, an extinct volcano. We were both a little disappointed as the volcano was really tiny and a huge tourist attraction with way too many people than either of us would have liked. Then, after getting lost once again we finally ended up at the Victoria Markets. This weekend is Labor Day weekend, so we heard that there wouldn’t be many people in town. Turns out all of the markets close too, and hit the road pretty quickly in search of the Auckland museum which we thought was free. Turns out the donation is mandatory, so that was a bummer and we figured the best move was to head home. This time I drove and I really think I could be destined to road trip for the rest of my life. I absolutely love driving, even the bit of traffic going north didn’t bother me that much. Leonie and I threw on some good music, had a few great conversations and watched the scenery. You can see the difference in the trees in the area which is really strange. Back home I am used to see all sorts of trees mixed together, but here on the same hill you can see different pockets of one species of tree. It made for an interesting looking landscape, so in between that and the intermittent farms of sheep and cattle my eyes did not get bored.
Soon enough we could see Whangarei harbor and after a bit of grocery shopping in town we were home and eating dinner. Ingrid said she kicked ass on her office work, so that’s good that she was able to get so much done without us distracting her. After a few more days of office work it will be back to the yardwork for her. Soon enough it was dark and also another night for a crazy moon. Early on in the moon rise it sat right on the water and was some crazy vibrant pink color. I tried to get a few pictures of the color but they didn’t come out as well. I now have the chair and coasters sitting in my room as I can’t seem to keep my camera out of my hands for more than five minutes at this place. I like it though, Ingrid and Leonie ask me to get pictures of everything and I am more than happy to do so. That damn camera was one of the best purchases I ever made ☺ Today was a great day even though Auckland was a bit disappointing. This place is really starting to feel like home and Ingrid, Leonie and I have no time being in great spirits around each other, joking, laughing and playing before saying goodnight and sweet dreams.
Sunday, October 24th
Today, Leonie and I attached the top shed in an attempt to get it done and off of our chest. I woke up to a gorgeous sunrise, and was pretty excited that the day was already looking gorgeous. After breakfast the two of us headed right to work. Poor Ingrid is stuck inside doing office work, and on days like today I really feel for her. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and the ocean looked great. In the veggie garden Leonie started painting the final wall while I took a shovel and rake to the different dirt areas. Years of fallen leaves have turned the back corner into a random pile of leaves, sticks and dirt. I wanted to get all of the dirt spots in the garden level with the concrete, so I worked on that for a while. Meanwhile Leonie attacked the last wall with a bit of paint and then headed outside to paint the final wall while I finished up inside. At one point Ingrid came to see how we were doing, and she agreed that the shed looked completely new.
A half hour later it was lunch time, and after lunch we wanted to clean the house a bit before snorkeling. I started on cleaning the windows, while Leonie did the gutters. Both projects were far more involved than either of us thought and we didn’t finish up till around 6. When I started the windows I asked Ingrid how she normally does it and I almost had to force her back into the office. I don’t blame her, I would rather be outside in this gorgeous weather than sitting in front of a computer screen as well! Dinner was a barbeque of steak, veggie burgers, roasted onions and potatoes, salad and the token chocolate. We finished the night off with a movie and gorgeous sunset. It was much cloudier today than it has been in a while and the sky was a mix of dark purple and bright pink. The three of us went out and walked up the driveway to get a better view.
During the movie (National Treasure 2) we talked a bit and Ingrid told us of her friend who has worked for the US government. During the movie area 51, the JFK assassination and other conspiracy theories were mentioned. Ingrid and I were explaining them to Leonie when she told us that this friend who worked for the US government has actually been to Area 51, and that its not what the movies portray it as. It’s actually MORE heavily guarded. Crazy stuff! Anyways, tomorrow Leonie and I head to the bottom shed to attack it with paint after rolling up the fence that Mr. Cows dragged out the other day, that is all before the call for Orca of course 😉
Monday, October 25th
I woke up really groggy this morning. Yesterday was a hard working day and it really killed me. I went into the kitchen for my breakfast and Leonie was already bouncing up and down saying we might have Orca! I couldn’t believe my ears, but just in case I ran to my room and started getting things ready. It turns out Sarah called, so we knew it would be legit and if she could stay with them we had a good chance of getting them seeing that they were in Auckland. By 8 we were in the truck, pulling out of the driveway on the way to Auckland. On the way there we talked about tons of different things, how Ingrid got started, the different research projects done on these guys, the history of these Orca etc. We got there around 10:30, were in the water and heading to them by 11. We rushed over and found them right away. Putita, Yin, Rhua and another female. They were sleeping meaning that basically they weren’t paying to anything around them and were travelling in a tight knit group in a very straight line. It was absolutely gorgeous though and I lost my breath for a little while. Putita and Rhua are Yin’ sons with the other female being the girlfriend of Rhua. They traveled with the boys on either side of their mom and the other female on the outside of Rhua. We stayed with them for a while, went for a swim when they dodged us. At this point Ingrid got a call from a guy in his house on an island a five minutes drive saying that he saw a few Orca travel by his house. Sarah and Eva split off to go find the other group, and called us saying that it was Ben and Knobby. Ben and Knobby are childhood friends, with Ben being a bit younger. They are hunting masters together and Ingrid said watching them is like watching perfection. Knobby is a full grown male with his dorsal fin towering over our boat, while Ben the poor boy has a crippled fin. In the late 90’s he was run over by a small boat that ended up slicing his fin in two. Making the situation even worse is that the back half of his fin has fallen over to the side, curled up alongside his body. As the boat only cut through half the fin the weight of it has slowly been pulling against him and the part in between the two chunks is constantly raw and open. The poor boy. He doesn’t seem to notice though and he and Knobby travel along as if they are on a mission. As we follow them into shallow water they seem to recognize Ingrid’s boat. That may sound silly, but when we pull up they instantly head right towards her boat and she speeds up and they get into position on either side and bow ride. I can just remember sitting on the bow with Leonie, both of us laughing and Ingrid shouting in joy as we ride with two giant dorsal fins about an arms length away from us. At this point we entered really shallow water and you could see right down to them. Ingrid showed us how to wave our arms with huge sweeping motions and the boys rolled on their sides and stared right up at us. It truly was amazing, such an unbelievably pure experience. Throughout the day Ingrid kept saying ‘This is why I get goose bumps everytime we get a call. This is why I tell you girls to keep your hopes up, because we can get a day like this at anytime’.
About the time we hit the shallows a few boats noticed the orca and headed out way at which the boys disappeared at once. I don’t blame Ben. If I were hit by a car I wouldn’t want to jay-walk, so its no surprised he doesn’t like boats too close to him. Ingrid stopped and chatted with the boats for a while and Sarah and Eva, who were watching all along heard from another boat of more Orca a few hundred meters away. They went to check it out and we soon followed. It was a mother and her two calves, one sub-adult male and a younger baby of undetermined sex. We followed them for a few hours as they started to hunt for rays, played in the surf and travelled through the harbor. At multiple points the group were hunting rays and would bring the rays over to the boat as if to show Ingrid before tearing them into chunks and eating the livers. They prefer the livers and usually let the rest of the body drop to the harbor floor. At one point we collected a chunk of ray liver for toxicological analysis. The mother and two calves kept our attention for quite a while and we followed them back around the harbor almost back to the point where we launched from. Soon enough we were in shallows again and he two kids were hunting rays, playing with the boat and bow riding. We saw another male off in the distance and thinking it was Knobby stayed away for a while. Only upon approaching it did we notice it was not, but he would swim belly up underneath us for quite a ways before surfacing and doing it again. Ingrid says that most cetaceans spend about half their time belly up as a natural thing, so it was quite cool to see.
While we were with the group of three plus the solitary male we got a call for a male and a mother carrying her calf that were feeding in the shallows. Ingrid got a twinkle in her eye because she knew it was Ben and Knobby. Most people can’t seem to figure out what is up with Ben’s fin and they usually thing it is a mother carrying her calf, or a female that is carrying something. We raced over and got there to find the boys thrashing in 2m of water. They were absolutely on fire and we stayed for at least an hour and a half while they caught maybe 10+ rays. Each time they would bring it to Ingrid, show off and toss it about a bit before tearing out the liver and moving on. It was amazing to see them interact with her and the boat and it was equally amazing to see her talk to them and explain to us what was happening. They clearly didn’t like it when other boats approached and seemed to stick closer to her boat if anything. At one point, some dumbass in a dive boat pulled up with a boat full of kids in wet suits and he proclaimed that he was going to cut the engine and get all of the kids in the water. Ingrid calmy said that it was a $50,000 fine per person for swimming with the orca and he glared at her and stayed for just a few minutes before driving away at break neck speed. Even if he was annoyed at Ingrid, the driving was unnecessary and you could see that it made the boys uncomfortable. For the rest of our time there I watched with eyes as big as saucers while Leonie and I perched on the pontoons. Multiple times I had to pull my hands and feet in the boat to get out of the boats way as they jumped and dove in the water around us. Their pecs, dorsal fins and flukes often came out of the water knocking into the boat and at one point they completely sandwiched the boat and you could hear the hull rub between them. I never in a million years imagined that I would see activity like this. Often, the water they were in was so shallow that Knobby’s fin was completely out of the water, and at one point after dropping a ray you could almost sense the boys dissapointment and Ben blew rasberries through his blowhole. I laughed, so surprised, but Ingrid said that one whale named Fuego loves to blow rasberries all the time, while hunting, bow riding and goofing off. It seemed to just be something fun that she did and she kept it up.
After the boys had their fill in the shallows they meandered through a series of anchored boats, right past some men fishing in a meter long dingy. They didn’t seem to care about the moorings and at one point Knobby, who must have not been paying attention during the hunt had to roll out of the way when his pec caught a rope. A few boats had come and gone through this time as well as a few brave kyakers, both of whom seemed to have no problem keeping up with and out of the way with us and the whales. We followed them around a picturesque jetty, with tons of people out fishing. It wasn’t until one man got a blow hole puff in the face before they realized they were there and a few watched bemused while a few tourists rushed to get out some cameras. At this point we ended up having to call the day because it was starting to get late, we had a long ride back and Ingrid has to get up early tomorrow to do some accounting. All together today is one day I will never forget. The tons of boats we saw in the water were more than interested and couldn’t seem to get enough for that fact. Many people in there houses went running to their boats to get in the water with them, watching intently for a while and talking to us before heading in with big waves and big smiles. More than half the time people called out to Ingrid by name, with a few parents introducing her to their children as Dr. Ingrid Visser the world famous Orca lady. She seemed a bit bemused but I was quite impressed. I still had goosebumps and couldn’t form the right words for the day on the ride back and Leonie and I will most likely be talking about this day for the next few weeks. I still can’t believe how tolerant the animals were of Ingrid’s boat, how interactive they were and just how breathtaking it is to be in their presence. I feel like I have been bitten by a bug, simple as that.
Today is the 27th and honestly the last two days we have been recooperating. Monday was such a hard day on the water for all of us, and we have been really exhausted. Leonie and I have gotten a few big chores done and last night we got a call saying that a humpback had been seen early in the morning, stuck in a rock pool bashing its head against the rocks trying to get out. That put all of us on edge and we packed the truck for the next apocalypse; extra wet weather gear and warm insides, sleeping bags, food and water for days and all of our dive gear in case we need to get in the water with the animals. Other than that we have taken it pretty easy and tomorrow should be the same. Friday Ingrid flies out to Australia for the weekend, so Leonie and I are driving her down to Auckalnd to fly out where we will spend the weekend with Eva at her place for a bit of city life, dolphins with the girls and some all around exploring! It’s also Halloween on Sunday, so Eva has invited us to a party on Friday which should be nice ☺ Monday we pick Ingrid up at the airport again then back home and hopefully more orca as soon as possible!
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