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Paikea Mist's Ode to Our Shores
the wet coast, the wild coast the mighty magnificent west coast. water spills from your snowy peaks and fills my soul. may your winds push me onwards yet always bring me home.
What's in a name?
Gloria
09/18/2010, Vava'u Island Group

Some of you may wonder how we came to name our boat Paikea Mist. We named our boat after being inspired by the movie, the Whale Rider which was filmed in Whaghara, New Zealand. As we travel ever closer to New Zealand, we ourselves learn more and more about the legend of Paikea, and continue to feel our boat is aptly named. There are several links to the legends of Paikea throughout the South Pacific. When we were in the Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, several Cook Islanders identified with our name, and told us that Paikea was the name of a famous chief of a nearby island. I recently bought a beautiful book by Glen Edney on humpback whales here in Tonga, and as I read it cover to cover, I came across this succinct description of the legends surrounding Paikea. "Another widespread legend is that of Kahuta-te-rangi/Paikea. In the oldest legends Paikea is the god of sea monsters and represents strength, endurance and the ability to challenge and survive the stormiest seas. In the Cook Islands crabs are called 'paikea' for their ability to survive cyclones by clinging to floating logs. In New Zealand, the Maori name for humpbacks is paikea, possibly in reference to their awe inspiring displays of endurance during their yearly migration. That migration may play a role in some of the settlement legends of of Aoteoroa/New Zealand. Several east coast Maori tribes including Ngati Porou and the early Ngai Tahu attribute their ancestors' arrival in Aoteoroa to the god "Paikea" who rode on the back of a whale from eastern Polynesia" . In the story "Whale Rider" written by Witi Ihimaera, and later made into the beautiful movie, the ancient legend of Paikea, and its meaning to the Maori tribe is described in more detail. The chief of the Maori tribe, Paikea, rode the back of the humpback whale from Hawaiki to New Zealand to save his people. The Maori people have a historical belief that in ancient times special members amongst them had an affinity to and were able to communicate with the humpbacks. When we named our boat Paikea Mist we intended to ride her from the Pacific Northwest through the South Pacific to New Zealand. We added the Mist to remind us of where we came from, the misty and wet Pacific Northwest, where we will eventually, like the humpback, make our long migration back to! As some of you may know from reading an earlier blog, Michael and I recently had the incredible chance to swim with a mother humpback whale and her newborn calf. This day was one that forever changed our perspective on our relationship with paikea, the humpback whales. Even with widening interest in whale watching throughout the world, the humpback whale is in need of our help and protection. After the final Russian slaughter of South Pacific Humpback whales in the decade between 1957 and 1967, the number of humpbacks in this region was reduced to as few as two hundred, with fewer than 50 females of breeding age in each sub population. The whaling was so complete, in fact, that the entire group that previously migrated to Fiji was wiped out. The migration path is considered to be a maternal thing, the old girl, in all her wisdom, knows where she needs to go to calve and raise her young in sheltered, warm waters. Once the final harpoon is thrust through the brain of the last female, the knowledge is lost forever. Females are often the easy target of whalers. Their calves are killed first, and the mother, her maternal nature screaming stays close to her dead calf, making herself an even easier target than her young calf. What we didn't know when we named our boat Paikea Mist, is that we would be thrust into the modern day story of the Humpback whale and its very survival. The other morning I lay awake in the early hour of the morning, listening to whale song echo through our hull. The sound is beautiful, invigorating, yet sad. Will their song be heard by my grandchildren? There are lots of small things we can all do to help the humpback whales make a recovery. Over the next few months I will be posting more information and links of the website so that you too may make a small change in your life that will help our oceans and whales.

Gloria's Stories
Totally Tongan
Gloria
09/13/2010, Vava'u Island Group

This beautiful 72 year old Tongan woman danced up a storm at the school party!

Totally Tongan!
"That sounds TT to me" replied Sherry. She and her husband Larry, both originally from the US, live in their tiny floating art gallery in a small anchorage in the Vava'u Island group in Tonga. They have called their 10x10 foot floating gallery home for the last 14 years. "TT?" asked Michael, "What does that stand for?'" Michael had spent the last half hour chatting with Sherri about her life and observations in Tonga, and asked if she knew anything about the invitation we had received for the next day to a school celebration in a small village on the main island of Vava'u. "TT is Totally Tongan! I haven't heard a thing about it, so it definitely doesn't have anything to do with Palangis, should be fun!" Palangi is the tongan word for foreigner, and most of the restaurants and most events here in Vava'u are run by palangis. To our delight, we had been invited to a totally Tongan celebration!

"TT 101" seems to be the class we are in this week. The first seed was planted a few weeks ago when we visited a small village school on one of the remote islands of Vava'u with a group of cruiser friends. I'm sure you can hazard a guess that Tonga is a pretty remote place, so living in a small village on a tiny island here is about as remote as it gets. The experience at their tiny school was delightful, and left all of us with warm hearts, wanting to look for ways to help the children with their education, while at the same time encouraging them to embrace their Tonga heritage and culture. The children were all incredibly eager to learn and to try to speak English with us. They stood to introduce themselves to us, and told us what they wanted to be in the future. "My name is Atene, I am 10 years old, when I grow up I want to be a teacher!" With a room full of teachers, policemen, soldiers and pilots, Michael introduced a new career choice to them: engineer! To our delight, they performed a series of Tongan dances for us. The children were so excited to share their dances with us, and beamed as they performed. Their voices were harmonic, and incredibly strong and beautiful as they sang along with the dance music.

As I sat and marveled at the simple beauty of their performance, and their innocent eyes, I couldn't help but wonder what their parents dreamed for them. What will their future hold? Tonga is a country on the edge of the modern world, aware, but not immersed in all of our frivolous wonders of the 21st century. True, they no longer live in thatched houses (replaced by corrugated steel and cement blocks), nor do they wear palm fronds as dress (replaced by dark shirts and pants often covered with the traditional mat around the waist). But the village has no generator, and as it becomes dark, the villagers rely on kerosene lamps and candles for lighting. The only working generator in the village belongs to the school teacher, the only salaried Tongan living in this village. No internet, no TV. No dishwashers, no hot showers. No refrigeration. Their parents rely on fishing and basket weaving for income.

When Tevita, the headmaster visited us on our boat after our second visit to his school, he told us the sad truth. Not a single child from this village had ever completed high school. Until he arrived at the village a year ago, the children scored the lowest amongst all the 29 primary schools in the Vava'u island group. His walls were bare, and the children simply empty vassals ready to be filled with his knowledge. Once they pass through all grades at the 2 room primary school at the village, the children have to move to Neiafu for high school,a small town about a one hour boat ride away. Most of them come back to the island after a year or two away, missing their family and island ways. In terms of formal education, the odds are really stacked against these kids from the start. Their parents know nothing different. Their life on the island is simple, yet pleasant. There is no one going hungry in their village, or island, nor in the rest of Tonga. Yet should one of these students manage the herculean task of finishing school, he would then have to leave Tonga, his family, his culture and everything he knows to complete his education in New Zealand. Even a high school education costs the family money most simply cannot afford; a university education is beyond the scope and dreams of most families. And in the end, dreaming the dream of a university education for your child is to dream a life for your child somewhere else in the world. Should their child go on to gain a useful degree, it is unlikely that he could be employed in one of the small villages, or even in the larger village of Neiafu. For most villagers this negates the reason they had children in the first place. They look forward to their place as the elder, cared for by the young ones. That has been the Tongan way of life for centuries.

Head master Tevita is the only child in his large family to have completed highschool, after which he went on to Teacher College. In the Tongan tradition, he shares his salary with his family. Every fortnight he travels to Neiafu to pick up his paycheque, where he has 5-6 family members waiting at the bank with him. "One day" he tells us "my brother may return the favour". "What does your brother do?" we asked. "My brother" smiled Tevita with a lift of his eyebrow," he drinks kava" (equivalent of hangs out). Traditionally families in Tonga used to have as many as 12 children, Tevita was one of six children, and he himself plans to have only two children. So the times are changing in Vava'u, albeit slowly. In the short term, Tevita hopes that his school will do better in the upcoming end of year exams in October. He lives in a small home on the school grounds with his wife and young daughter. The generator they use to run his small TV and school lights was failing, and on our first visit, he timidly asked Michael if he might be able to fix it, hence we arranged to come back to his island in ten days time.

When we returned to the village the second time to tend to the generator, we were draped with flower leighs, and the children welcomed us by name. While I played with the children, teaching them some English phrases, Michael fixed the generator, surrounded by young boys and some of the village men. Later in the afternoon when Tevita accepted our invitation aboard Paikea Mist, we showed him, amongst other things our own generator and watermaker. He was over the moon when we gave him a glass of cooled drinking water made from our watermaker. He told us it had been a very long time since he had had a cold drink of water, and he drank it with obvious pleasure. Such simple pleasures are the joys of a simple life. Tevita's wife and daughter were away for the week, travelling to Tongutapu, the capitol city. What, we wondered, would Tevita do for dinner while they were gone? He had no concerns he told us, his village was an open kitchen he explained, he need only visit one of his neighbours to be given his meal.

Back home, the concept of the global village rolls loosely off our lips, as though the world and its humans are one big interconnected family. But it turns out that the world is only small on the TV. We are worlds apart from each other. Tevita's villagers are ready to share a meal with their teacher, but they cannot afford, or perhaps see the need, to buy their children a pencil to bring to school. They have even suggested that since Tevita is the only one on salary in their village, he should be able to buy the school its needed supplies. Tevita certainly has his struggles ahead to fulfill his biggest dream, that a child from this village will complete highschool one day.

On the other end of the Tongan spectrum is Koleti and her family. She is determined that all six of her children will not only graduate from highschool here in Tonga, but go to New Zealand for a university degree. With three of her sisters living in Canada, and one in New Zealand, she and her husband Tupi have a slightly more worldly attitude, even though neither of them have ever left Tonga. We met them at the "Giggling Whale" a local restaurant, where every Wednesday night her beautiful family dances in order to raise educational funds for the children of their village. Both she and her husband work fulltime at a local resort in order to provide for their children. She sends her son Brian, seven, to school with a new pencil every day. He comes home with the small end, having broken off and shared his pencil with his classmates who do not have one. Their oldest daughter Jasmine is studying for her final year of highschool, and tells us that she is both excited and anxious to travel to New Zealand for her first time, where she will live with her auntie and attend university.

The totally Tongan party we were invited to was a celebration of the opening of the first ever computer room in the local public school. On the day of the "Computer party", Tupi picked us up at the dock, Tongan time, 'around' 10 in the morning. He took us to his two storied, simple home at the top of a small hill, overlooking the village. The women were busy in the downstairs open kitchen preparing the feast for the party. They worked on a small crowded counter and on the floor, which was compact dirt. They would not accept my offer of help, and instead shuffled us upstairs (concrete stairs built outside of the house) where the children were getting ready for the party. The room was tidy, with a small TV in the corner, a small old and tattered sofa and miscellaneous outdoor furniture here and there. On a corner bookstand a collection of English books were on display. The oldest daughter, Jasmine, was ironing the uniforms for her youngest sister Megan, eight, and her brother Brian. Cousins came in and out, more siblings arrived, and all the while the youngest son, 18 month old Douglas was passed from one child to the next as his needs were met communally by the young group. Jasmine, sixteen, occasionally gave soft advice to her younger siblings and cousins. Without a single toy to be seen, this extraordinary group of children occupied themselves cooperatively and happily for the party. Michael and I sat in awe of their abilities, and their obvious love for each other.

The school yard was decked out for a feast. Each family in the village had their own table, each covered in a white crocheted table cloth, the tables formed into a giant U shape, covered in huge picnic tents with balloons dancing in the wind. Each family brought several large bowls, full of chips, New Zealand apples and pop as table decoration, most of them beautifully wrapped and ribboned. When the food arrived, plate after plate was piled onto the table, until the food was at least a foot high, with a roasted suckling pig taking center stage on each table. As the music played, woman danced "tongan-western style" on the grass, broad smiles across their faces, calling out and greeting friends as they arrived. As is the case in most community affairs, the microphone droned on and on, one dignitary after the other, until eventually the ribbon was cut and the door unlocked to the new computer room. Half the village it seemed, lined up to see the five new computers on display there. Later the school children performed, followed by two older woman of the village, all in order to raise more funds. At one point, one of the dancers pulled Michael out on to the dance floor and 'boogied" tongan style with him, much to the mass amusement of the crowd. When finally the feasting began, we found ourselves gorging on a huge selection of dishes. We eventually stumbled back to our boat around 5 o'clock that night, "totally tonganed", full and happy, totally satisfied.

Gloria's Stories
Friends across Oceans
Gloria
09/03/2010, Vava'u, Tonga

Funny thing, how time moves independent of your perception of it. Time is the one of those reference points which allows us to make some sense out of our existence. Friendships, good ones that is, seem to act the same way, pointing us like a compass in the right direction.

Friendships forged while cruising are unique. You almost always spend disproportionately large amounts of time together, especially if you share the same interests and goals. Under these circumstances new friendships are put to the test, and it doesn't take long for the litmus paper to ascertain the kind of friendship you will have. As you make new passages across the oceans, or chose new anchorages together, you learn to rely and trust one and another, in a way that is not often required in land based friendships. From analyzing weather before departure and route planning, to sundowners and potluck dinners -these are the kinds of things that make friendships made at sea stick together like magic glue. A good cruising friend knows without question that the other will be there to help out in any given moment of need. We know without saying that even after several more ocean passages, ports of calls and cruising destinations, the kernel of the friendship lies in waiting, and only the slightest spark will be needed to maintain or re- ignite it.

Today we said 'Aufwiedersehen' to two very special friends, ones we have been enjoying the company of since our first meeting in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. Finally after months of linking up with Fly Aweigh at various ports along the way, we are off in distinctly different directions. Fly Aweigh heads for Fiji and eventually Australia, while we will stay in Tonga and head south to New Zealand this November. One of the first times we sailed together on a night passage was unplanned, but our AIS systems found both boats bound for the magical island of Isla Isabella one windy and electrified night off the coast of Mexico. On my night watch, with lightning shows from all quadrants, I took great comfort in knowing that the other boat with us had two pilots on board! At anchor, after a thrilling day exploring the island, and observing the birdlife, we invited Allan and Alison over for sundowners. Our combined enthusiasm for the joys of discovery on the small island was palpable, and our friendship continued to expand from there. Months later, we would both sail over a ½ day out of our way to the zone of totality to witness the total eclipse of the sun. Although we were over a hundred miles away from each other, the experience was so uniquely pivotal it will likely stand as the candle to which all else will be measured.

Friendships always teach you something about life, or at least how to approach it. Alison showed me how to slow down and see the small stuff of discovery. Who else would find a lobster, no larger than a centimeter long in a small tidal pool on a reef, having kayaked there at night (under a full moon no less). While everyone else looked for the big guys, Alison and I poked around, admiring the tinsy tiny spectrum of life with our flashlights. From our first snorkeling and diving adventures together, Allan taught me how to move and breathe underwater. I still have a long way to go to meet his particular standard, as he is more or less a fish under water with or without scuba gear! But ultimately, his encouragement gave me the gift of enjoying the underwater landscape to its fullest. He and Alison also reminded both of us about keeping promises, no matter how sacrificial that might be on your own personal enjoyment of life. So the small stuff, and the big stuff - all in one friendship - you have to love that. Together, they reinforced our belief to embrace life, take chances and move through life with passion and honesty.

The next few days and weeks will be yet another time of adjustment for Michael and I. Cruising seems to teach this lesson relentlessly. Rather than waking up with our friends 'next door', sharing coffee on the stern step while planning our next adventure or discussing the mysteries of life, we will be relying on sailmail and far flung stories to continue to sew the fabric of our friendship. If it is true that the secret to life is enjoying the passage of time, friends surely must be the unit of measurement required to mark its passage. Thanks Fly Aweigh.

Gloria's Stories
The last 24 hours
Gloria
08/24/2010, Va'Vau Tonga

The plump and satisfied Tongan woman sat with her friend in the middle of the trail, orange peels dropped at the crook of their crossed feet. "Malo a lelei, good morning" she says lifting her head to look up at us, greeting us with a wide smile, "Are you out for your morning exercise?' The two women sat barefooted , taking what appeared to be a Tongan form of a "coffee break", along with two small dogs, a pile of miniature mandarin oranges, a bag of harvested fruit and a large machete. Having seen orange coloured lemons before in the tropics, I asked if the fruit they were eating were lemons or oranges. She gave me the tongan name for the fruit, and offered me one. Firmer than our mandarin oranges, with lots of pits and less juice, they nevertheless provided a thirst quenching burst of sweetness as I bit my way through their leathery pulp. Aware that we would have to pass the resting women if we were to continue our run, I enquired if we could continue running along their path, and she swept her welcoming arm in the direction we were headed and bid us a good day. "Malo, Malo Aupito!" (Thank you, thank you very much) I said as I dropped my head to indicate both my respect and thankfulness.
Eventually the trail led us to a wooden gate. We slowed down and eventually stopped. Hands on our hips, we wondered if this was to be the turn around point of our run. From the small plantation to our side, yet another voice enthusiastically rang out "Good Morning!" This time the friendly voice came from a youngish man, perhaps in his early thirties, wearing long pants and a dark T-shirt, all wrapped in the traditional tongan waist mat known as a ta'ovala. He was working his plantation, collecting waste material and weeds from his rows of pineapples, which lazily burned in a long strip beside us. "May we go through the gate into the village?" I asked, and again was answered with a welcoming "yes". The village on the other side of the gate was delightfully small, consisting of 6 or 7 immaculately kept family homes, all connected with foot paths. The village grass was green and clean, the land sloping ever so gently to the water's edge. Pigs and dogs roamed freely, perhaps communally owned by all the villagers, perhaps not. A small boy with gorgeous dark eyes stood outside his home, wearing only a shirt, and glanced at us shyly; his furtive smile was easy to miss as it slipped from his lips almost as quickly as it was formed. "Malo a lelei!'' I rang out, knowing this time I would be the enthusiastic one.
When we finished the run, we climbed back into our kayaks and lackadaisically paddled along the water's edge. With the wind and tide in our favour, it was a free ride as we steered through a maze of volcanic rock, carved by the seas hand with interesting patterns and formations. As I relaxed into the softness of my inflatable kayak, I took a moment to reflect on the last twenty four hours, a habit I have gotten into over the course of our journey down the coast of North America and across the South Pacific. I am once again humbled and in awe of the passage of time we are graced with, such are the scope of variety and the magic of the moments. Yesterday a humpback whale sang to us while we were scuba diving. Later we sailed around the outer islands of the Vavau group in a brisk refreshing wind against reddy brown cliffs that towered beside us. In this game, I can pick any 24 hours, every day has offered its own reward, oftentimes in multiples. Sometimes I think I must be dreaming, but I guess that's why they call it, 'living the dream'. Go ahead, pinch me, because it is one dream after another. Just now as I write, a needle fish leaps out of the water, performing an Olympian long jump of at least 12 feet, his silvery sides sparkling in the tropical sun. Which reminds me, earlier today as the sun cast its early morning light on the reef beside Paikea Mist, I marveled as a brown footed booby rocketed down from above dropping like a stone into the water, resurfacing with a small fish between its beak. Twenty four hours, any twenty four hours.
In one of my favorite James Taylor songs, he quotes Richie Havens when he sings "the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time". I'm pretty sure Tongans know this secret, and have for a very long time. Malo, malo aupito.

Gloria's Stories
Catamaran
Gloria
08/16/2010, Tonga- Vavau

The story of the abandoned catamaran has slowly unfolded amongst fellow cruisers, and as they say a picture tells a thousand words. With the deck and rigging completely stripped from the boat, the old girl lies on a small sandy islet in the Vavau group. The wreck leaves a big question mark- is anything left worth pulling it off the island. Will keep you posted.

Gloria's Stories
The Eye of a Whale
Gloria
08/16/2010, Tonga- Vavau

In the Eye of a Whale
As the sun rose over the eastern sky, on a bright clear day hundreds of years ago, a curious Tongan man climbed into his canoe and paddled out to the great creature he had been watching performing spectacular breaches from his island. As he drew nearer he saw that it was a mother and her young calf, now gently resting together in his sheltered bay. He carefully slipped into the water and dove gently down to get a better look. In an ancient dance with the mighty thing, he stayed under the water as long as his breath would allow, his eyes never loosing contact with hers. Day by day he went to greet the magnificent creature, to look into her mysterious eye. As he got closer to the whale their spirits soared together, until one day the whale offered him a ride.

I've had dreams of looking into the eye of a whale while it swims by me underwater. The relationship between man and whale is complex, and most breathing human beings on this planet share a deep fascination with them. I like to think that in the very beginning, Man swam side by side the whale, equals in all respects, or maybe even that man fell under the pectoral fin of the whale, as snug as I now know that a calf resides under the gentle guidance of its mother.

What seems impossible is that these creatures have been anything but revered and protected by man. The sad truth is that not long ago human kind were slaughtering whales in great numbers. Whaling still continues on in some countries in the world today. Japan calls it scientific research, others are brave enough to call it whaling. One such account is the last legal slaughter of humpbacks by Russian whalers. The fleet was given permission to take 140 whales, but private notations have indicated that one slaughter numbered as high as 40,000 whales! Why? Oh Why? Thankfully the majority of people shudder at the prospect of such massive slaughters. This one thing I know to be true, there were once many, many more whales in our oceans than there are today. I feel certain that given the amazing beauty of these marine mammals, and given the inborn curiosity of both man and whale, that early humans got in the water with these creatures, and swam together.

Somewhere man lost that connection and the slaughtering began, and mercifully our generation has relented somewhat. And so the humpback whale lives on, mating and birthing in predictable cycles every year. The southern members gorge themselves on krill in Antartica before swimming north to the shelter and protection of the warm waters of such places as Niue, and Tonga. While they are here, they give birth to and rear their young. The activity creates a huge interest in all sorts of communities, all the way from whale researches who spend their entire careers on the study of whales , to cruisers like us who happen to be in the right place at the right time. By the time you have travelled this far on a sailboat, you don't just notice nature, you are part of it. In between the cruiser and the researchers are a significant number of nature enthusiasts who will pay top dollar to leave their couches and fly into a place like Tonga to have the privilege of seeing the whales in their natural habitat.

Here in Tonga, there is an ongoing debate amongst the cruising boats, as to whether the industry governing the practice of swimming with whales, (which is legal in Tonga) is problematic for the whales, and just who is and isn't allowed to swim with the whales. Part of the cruising community believes that if they pass by a whale they have every right to interact with the whale, as long as that interaction does not disturb the creature. The dive boats who take people out are clear that they are the only ones who should be approaching the whales, as they have a marine biologist on board to monitor the interaction. Beyond these debates, lies a whole group of people who believe we should not be in the water at all. And yet there is that fascination, that connection that I spoke of earlier that pulls us to want to see them.

Having snorkeled and gone scuba diving now with so many marine creatures, we decided we would make the decision with firsthand information, and today we went out on a dive boat to swim with the humpbacks.

Let me break by saying this was simply THE most amazing day of our entire trip, having left Vancouver over a year ago. The fellow cruisers who swam with the whales today are bonded forever: Allan, Alison (Fly Aweigh), Trish and Steve (Curious) and Gordon and Sherry (Serenity), and of course the two of us.

Our morning started early, leaving the dock just before 8 am. We sped out in the dive boat to the outer islands, and immediately spotted a mother and her calf in the protected waters behind one of the small islets. The dive boat approached slowly, initially about 2-300 feet off, to see how the mother would react. Docile as can be, she stayed on top of the water , with her 10 day old calf playing around her. Her behavior was relaxed, and her movements very gentle. We gently lowered ourselves into the water , small groups of four, each with a marine biologist guiding us. We were told to initially stay on the opposite side of the mother as the calf, but it wasn't long before the mother and calf were completely relaxed with the humans, and the calf became rather curious. At one spectacular moment, the mother nudged the baby towards us, and he swam within meters of the swimmers. Mother watched the first pass, and it wasn't until the second pass, which was within an arm's reach that she came up to move the little one away. Later she hovered about 15- 20 feet under the water and watched us, one eye open to the action, while she rested and her baby suckled and swam around her.

The relationship between mother and calf was gentle, and enormously tactile. At times the mother would cradle the calf between her pectoral fins, at other times we watched as the baby rolled playfully down the back of her mother at the surface of the water. The calf practiced many of the typical humpback moves, including spy hoping, breaching and rolling over, all to our utter amazement and complete and humble gratitude. Under water we could see her suckling, nudging her mothers mammary glands for milk, and then resurfacing for air, only to go down for more. A humpback calf will need to gain about 25 kilos a day, all of the nutrients coming from the mother. She is no longer feeding, and relying solely on all that gorging in Antartica. Gaining a kilo an hour every day is no easy job, and the calf will grow so quickly that his skin actually sheds into the water (and sticks to our fins as we climb back onto the dive boat). On one incredible tactile pass, we watched as the calf ran its much smaller pectoral fin down the course of his mother's immense body, in a way that looked just as enjoyable for the mother as it did for the calf. Later the mother blew bubbles under her calf, a bubble bath of sorts. Later in life the baby will grow up and use the technique to raise krill out of the water, a feat that is carried out in unison with other humpbacks, allowing one of them at a time to surface through the middle of the bubble zone to capture all the raised krill in their giant mouths.

Was this an interaction that was in any way harmful for the mother and calf? You will all have to make your own decision about this. Scientific evidence reveals that any observation of another living thing changes the behavior of the one observed, so of course there is always going to be some kind of impact. Did it harm this mother? I think not. Should we tread lightly on their lives and habitat? Absolutely. Did I learn and observe a whole lot about whales and whale behavior today? Without a doubt. Was it heart rendering and thrilling? You bet. Somehow, the experience was one that felt shared with the whale, this mother seemed to be quite content to have us near, actively participating. For several hours, this remarkably gracious mother made no attempts to leave once we arrived, and did not show any signs of concern that we were in the water with her and her calf, other than the one time that her young babe ventured too close. When we eventually left the two of them, the baby made several spy hops, followed by the mother making dramatic flaps with her pectoral fins. Was she happily waving good riddance or calling us back? You be the judge. The one thing I know is that these great creatures are intelligent, and utterly aware of us. They are here on the same planet with us, yet make no demands. When a whale submerges, they call the clear calm patch he makes in the water his footprint. I wonder, if more people could have the opportunity to share time with these magnificent creatures, perhaps they would they find it easier to leave a smaller footprint themselves.


Gloria's Stories

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