DAY FOUR ON BOARD - There she blows!
Up as usual with the sun, and the gentle hum of the engine.
In the morning, we pulled up a lot of plastic, which has made me so happy, including a lot of balloons again – we also thought we saw a dolphin with a balloon on its head, which sounds funny, but in reality really isn’t – I just hope that dolphin doesn’t eat it. I also speared a large polystyrene box as we went past. It felt awesome! We saw swordfish leaping into the air, tunas, and lots of Mediterranean Shearlings (birds). As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the hydrophone, a special microphone which is draped off the boat and deep into the water, was making a lot of noise today. This means either whales or dolphins are closeby, and we could hear both, so we were all on watch! Ric climbed up the mast to spot the whales better, which means I got to take the captain’s seat and drive the boat!
When there is a lot of clicking, it means the whales are sending echolocation downwards towards the squid they like to eat. When it gets louder, we know we are in the right place! When the clicking stops, it means they are coming up to breathe, so that’s when we have to stop the boat and just look out for them surfacing, either a tail fin or a spout of water.
We were lucky enough to see two sperm whales! It was incredible and Doris was so happy! We also all went out in the zodiac to get a bit closer to them, but not too close; within about 20 metres of them. They were so quiet and graceful. The only sound was their breathing out at the surface.
One surprise for me was that there was a pungent manure-like smell when they surfaced. I guessed that was the smell of the krill in their stomachs, but I hadn’t been expecting that as part of my experience! I guess there is an irony in that we still allow these whales to be hunted through loopholes in international laws, for their Ambergris (found in their guts) which is used to make perfumes last longer. We are so foolish – who still prizes perfume above these amazing animals? I will now be checking that none of my perfumes contain that. After they dove back down and were clearly not coming back up, we tried to collect skin samples from the water, but I don’t think we picked up anything of interest. There were a few tears of joy and some fizz back on the boat! It was very special.
It was also amazing for Miguel and Nimes, both 16, and from Majorca, to see the whales. Despite living so close to this area, they had never seen them before. They won their places on the boat as part of a competiton, run at their school, to raise awareness amongst other young people on marine litter. They wrote a hilarious rap song, making fun of the whole situation where they were asked to pay to clean one of their local beaches. It clearly wasn’t working to engage them and I loved their honesty. They were a lot of fun to have around, even when I didn’t understand what they were talking about, they were always making everyone laugh. Before this week they said they felt ambivalent on marine pollution, and didn’t see it as something they could make any impact on. They also, which I loved, admitted that the main reason they took part in the competition was because they liked the girl who promoted it at their school! Honesty is so refreshing!
But after a week on board, they say that they do understand more about what they can do personally, in terms of not throwing anything in the sea (especially their cigarettes), and buying less plastic at home. But more excitingly, they said they are interested in being part of Alnitak in some way going forward. Their IT skills would certainly be very useful to Alnitak, but they were also amazing at engaging other young people on the issue, when the boat docked and other people came onboard. This trip is ideal for teenagers, Ric´s approach ensures it is safe, but also a lot of fun, making for a great learning environment for everyone, even adults...
p.s. both students have since continued working on small but excellent projects for Alnitak, creating educational posters for their exhibitions at port – see the photo below of our favourite reusable bamboo bottles by Not Just Bamboo.