I couldn’t believe my ears as I heard my crew mate Owen whisper to the skipper in his quiet South African accent ‘See there. Humpback whales. Two of them’. I had always dreamed of seeing a humpback whale. That there might be one whale let alone two made my heart skip a beat as I scanned the horizon and located the mist from their blows in the distance. Was this really happening to me? The afternoon had already been perfect with the sun shining over False Bay, seals dashing across the ocean and a feeding Southern Right whale. This was going to be the icing on the proverbial cake if we could locate the humpback whales at close range.
In our haste we motored over with all eyes on the horizon; searching, hoping for a glimpse of the whales. Owen and I scampered up the ladder to top deck and saw the tails of two whales rising and dipping into the blue ocean. We had found them and slowly approached them for a closer look. I gripped the railing of the top deck tightly in my excitement and, face into the wind, kept my eye trained on the area where the whales had last been seen. I turned to Owen and he smiled. He turned to me, placed his hand upon my arm and told me earnestly ‘See here Kat. They are going to breach just now. Watch.’ The two whales did just that. At the precise moment Owen finished his sentence, the two magnificent whales breached in perfect synchronicity high into the air and towards our boat. Their white bellies curved in the sunlight, their backs arched and droplets of water fell down and away from their curves as they moved and twisted through their breach. Their pectoral fins turned whilst they were air-borne and then slowly they hit the water with a loud, deep splash. They sank back into the blue. I was absolutely speechless at what had just occurred. The scene repeated in slow motion in my mind again and again as a grin spread across my face. Owen and I just couldn’t stop laughing at the perfect timing of that breach. How did he know it would happen?! That I will never understand but then he has spent a lifetime on the ocean and knows her better than I do.
We continued to observe the whales closely as they breached together another two times and breached individually right out of the water. It was spectacular and all I could manage to do was squeal in excitement and smile every time. After the whales had finished we slowly followed them across the bay. They lazily swam onwards. With each blow a rainbow formed in the air and carried itself towards us. I calmed down just enough to look at their markings; they were covered in scratches, black and white blotches and more. One of the whales had a completely black tail and the other had a tail with a white underside. This white tail whale kept leaning onto its side and exposing its belly to the other whale, a pectoral fin waving in the air. I wondered if this was a female being courted by a black tail male. The two whales slowed to a halt and slowly turned belly up and pointed their gigantic tails at one another. Our skipper switched the motors off.
There was utter silence on our boat and around us as we drifted alone but for the presence of these two ocean giants. The whales slapped their tails heavily onto the water and performed an amorous tail slapping display at one another for a number of minutes. The noise from each slap was like gunfire. It was incredibly loud, echoing across the bay and magnified the complete silence around us. As their display came to an end the white tail whale righted itself and let out a huge, deep sigh. They paired up again and slowly resumed their journey across the bay side by side.
As we drifted apart from the whales I realised just how elegant and graceful these gentle giants were. The afternoon has passed by in a flash and these whales had absolutely captivated us. It is fair to say I didn’t stop smiling all the way home. In fact I am still smiling now as I recall every precious moment that day.