Monday, 5 March 2012

In the company of giants

There are creatures so magnificent that words and pictures cannot capture them, experiences so vivid they must be lived. This morning the creatures we saw were too magnificent and the experience too vivid, but try to express them in words I must. This morning we saw blue whales.

That the blue whales found in the Indian Ocean are the laughably named pygmy blue whale is taxonomically interesting (though their taxonomy is far from clear) but irrelevant. Smaller than the blue whales of high latitude seas they may be; magnificent they are no less for it.

We sailed from Mirissa port in a storm of terns: whiskered, gull-billed, common, great crested and, a little further offshore, exquisitely long-winged bridled terns. Not long after sailing our spotters called to the captain to guide him towards distant blows; but distant blows soon became not distant blows and we found ourselves in the company of pygmy blue whales. A tall, columnar blow, the ridge of the whale’s back and three seconds (always three seconds) after the blow the diminutive and diagnostic dorsal fin. After a dozen or more blows, a stronger curve to the back, a raised tail and perfect stillness on the ocean’s surface once more.

For two hours we watched a small group of these phenomenal animals, seeing three identifiable whales and perhaps a fourth. The one we saw most – five times – had a large notch cut from its already tiny dorsal fin. Another had a big pale splodge in its tail. And at least one other had no notch and no splodge. Each had whalesuckers attached to its tail or back: another extraordinary creature, on an extraordinary morning.

As we sailed elated home we passed through a feeding flock of whiskered terns, containing numerous smaller, perkier white-winged terns. Six species of tern in a morning. But when blessed with the company of pygmy blue whales, who’s counting?

Marine marvels from this morning


pygmy blue whale
Balaenoptera musculus indica


common tern
Sterna hirundo
bridled tern
Sterna anaethetus
white-winged tern
Chlidonias leucopterus
Indian peafowl
Pavo cristatus
white-bellied sea-eagle
Haliaeetus leucogaster


Remora australis

2012 Totals
Mammals: 36
Birds: 353
Reptiles: 7
Amphibians: 3
Fish: 2

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