Saturday March 3rd, 2001

Location

Trinity Island

Latitude

63.54S

Longitude

60.46W

Wind

Northeasterly, 25 to 30 knots

Sea state

Rough outside harbour

Air temp

0 deg C

Sea temp

0 deg C

Barometer

998 mbs and steady

Conditions

Blizzard

Visibility

150 metres


1800 hrs: There is a blizzard outside. The snow is swirling past Seamaster and piling up all over the decks – in the ropes, filling the dinghies, the cockpit… it’s getting everywhere. To go out through the pilot-house door is to be instantly coated with white.

We are anchored in 70 metres depth of water, in behind the ice cliffs of a 350 metre high headland. The shoreline is only two hundred metres away, but is rarely visible.

The day started well with a calm at dawn. There were a few breaks in the sky to the east, but low cloud over the mountains nearby.

An iceberg that had wandered into our bay overnight remained grounded in the comparatively shallow water just astern of us, with lumps falling off into the sea from time-to-time. The many fur seals headed off early to feed and were still away as we raised anchor at 8am. We motored westwards to clear some rocks and stopped next to 3 humpback whales lying on the surface.

There were the remains of their krill meal – the bright pink “shells” scattered across the water all around us. The whales were making slow circles, still feeding, with their huge mouths open to strain their food through the baleen plates. We left them to it and turned north, then northeast, heading towards Mikkelsen Harbour on Trinity Island.

Thar she blows

An hour later the more familiar cry of “thar she blows” rang again. Four humpback whales had been sighted right ahead. We slowed. Then circled around and stopped both main engines, turned off the generator, the steering pumps and depth sounder, and went into silent mode – just sitting and watching, Seamaster rolling gently on the short swells coming from further north.

After a while, all four humpbacks approached us moving very slowly. They came right alongside – sometimes submerged, sometimes on the surface. They went under Seamaster, rolling upside down and exposing their white underbellies, their huge and very distinctive flippers gleaming pale yellow-white. We could see close details of the blow holes, of the barnacles growing on their backs, around their heads, and on the very tips of their tails. Their eyes looked at us in a knowing way.

We were looking at them very closely, all exclaiming at the experience of a life-time. They were examining us – communicating with each other all the time. Our hydrophone picked up their conversation, but they wouldn’t have needed any device to know what we were saying about them.

Time and again they circled around, came back next to us, or passed right under the stern, blowing from time to time with very distinctive snorts and then inhaling with a tremendous gasp, before closing the blow hole and easing back under the surface. They sometimes stopped right alongside, so close we could almost touch them, looking at us and at our vessel.

They occasionally popped only their heads vertically above the water – almost like a spy-hopping seal. An hour later they suddenly formed a line abreast, side by side, and slowly moved off, heading south. We’ve been so fortunate to watch some of their kind breaching yesterday, then today to spend some quality time in close company with others. Not just a fleeting sighting, but a feeling that they were as interested in us as we in them. They were relaxed that we were there, looking at them for only that reason. There were no other more sinister motives.

Why?

I’ve had encounters with whales before, leaving me with similar feelings.

Whilst they are the biggest of animals to have ever roamed this planet of ours, they are also one of the most gentle. They don’t affect us by their actions. They don’t compete with us for our food. They don’t really have a negative impact on us by anything they may do. In fact, it is the opposite. They make us exclaim and wonder and begin to comprehend the marvels of nature in all her forms.

So why, oh why, do certain peoples feel they have the right to decimate these most marvellous and gentle of giants. Why do the rest of us not do something about it? Something that is positive and makes a real difference to what is surely the plight of the whales and many other similarly effected species now heading for “extinction” or “extermination” - I am not quite sure which is the right word. Probably both apply in this case!

Why is this happening? Well it all comes down to economics. They are easy to catch (the few that are left) so why not take them? There is no navy policing the open waters of the world. Governments don’t seem to make much noise because it doesn’t suit them to do so. Whaling is easy money when so few object sufficiently for it to be effective.

On Seamaster, we have been very very fortunate to have had such an encounter as today.

The chances are high that few of our children will have the same experience. They will have to be satisfied by looking at the pictures of what once was – but is no more.

You may think I am being over reactive. I can assure you that I am not. We could save what we have. But somehow or other, some major changes in attitudes will have to occur first.

Now is the time to make a difference. The time is running out for some unless we act now.

Examine the photos we have taken yesterday and today, and try and find a reason that you don’t agree.

Until tomorrow,

Best wishes from all onboard.

Peter.