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Whale dinner party, thump, crunch, munch, grunt

by Guest Blogger

August 19, 2007

Last night after our fabulous whale watching day we gathered in the mess where Kelly, the marine biologist, gave us a talk on whale vocalization, playing us some recorded sounds. "What’s that?" someone asks. "That thumping sound? That’s the whales jumping on the seals," says Kelly. The room goes sober, as we imagine that scene, although the image provokes some uncontrollable laughter too, which gets worse as she explains the next sounds, a kind of garbled grunting. "Now they’re eating. They’re like us, they like to talk over their food, it’s like a whale dinner party." Hmn. Do the Humpbacks…like the beauties we saw all morning…do that too?  How incredibly ignorant I am about whale behaviour. Later, Kelly educates me: Humpbacks eat fish or Krill, a shrimplike creature. But right here, right now in the mess she is talking about Killer Whales and Tom (our resident radio operator and techno-genius) corrects her: "Orcas". There is no mistaking the disapproval in his voice. Kelly doesn’t hear him. I ask her later about the discrepancy in terms. Haven’t some people…by which I really mean "Greenpeace"…decided to call these types of whales "Orcas" as the term "Killer Whale" sounds perjorative, and creates a lack of empathy? "Well, they kill other whales," she says matter-of-factly.

ght the boat starts to sway in an exciting manner. If it gets any more exciting there will be cookies tossed all around our cabin. I get up, pulling on jeans and stuffing my flannel nightie into them…ahh, the fashionable Greenpeace outfits we wear!…and wander up to the bridge. I get as far as the room adjoining the bridge, with its countertops covered by machines blinking various coloured lights (don’t expect too many details from a techno-idiot) from where I can see that the bridge is dark and silent. No, I mean dark. And SILENT. Who’s on watch? WHERE are they/he/she? it??? I put my hand into the dark empty space that is the open doorway to the bridge…nothing, empty air. Mysterious, strange, and alarming. I put my hand further forward…further…and encounter a curtain. Ahhh! Pulling it aside, I discover more machines, blinking reasuringly, and people, how wonderful!: Rao, from South India, who is Third Mate, and Kate, our youngest crew member, 24 years old. Kate had left a note for Kelly on our cabin wall earlier, when she was starting her watch and Kelly was somewhere not to be found. It has a coloured diagram showing how to get to Kate’s cabin from ours and it says: "Please, please do not hesitate to knock on my door. I’m on watch, so my schedule in not to begin work until 1 pm. BUT, I would really, really rather take stills of whales for you than I would sleep." After which she’d written "Serious), in case Kelly didn’t believe it.

Kate tells me a story she’s heard involving several Greenpeacers out in a zodiac who were approached by three whales (Bowheads I think, I can’t ask Kate as she is out in a zodiac with Kelly right now), one male and two females, and how the male started to butt the zodiac, and the Greenpeacers found out later the behaviour indicated an ominous whale dinner party plan involving a few tasty eco-warriors. Then this morning Second Mate Diek — for once being serious — tells of seeing furious whale activity in waters off Hawaii, and then seeing the ocean redden with masses of blood. He thinks it was a baby Killer Whale (or Orca, if you will) being savaged. So, whales.  Gentle and lovable? Certainly, at times, and after the humpbacks visitation this morning it would be hard to find anyone on board whose heart was not moved. Ferocious and deadly? That, too. Sociable, like to talk over dinner? Absolutely. Just like us. Tomorrow: Ten foot swells…Quick and Unintended Weight Loss Diet…St. George tour with our spiritual leader, including fur seals and cliffs teeming with birds; and Pink Floyd, Chuck Berry and more…

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