A Sperm Whale 'tail slapping'.
Photo: Chris Johnson
December 25, 2000
Holidays and Whales
This is Chris Johnson talking to you on a balmy Christmas Eve from the decks of the Odyssey.
We are spending our Christmas holidays on the oceans of the equatorial pacific with a large party of sperm whales.
Since arriving in Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati, our days in the surrounding waters have been spent collecting data from several large groups of whales. Just before sunset today we had a group of 14 sperm whales perfectly lined up ahead of our bow in typical formation, close together and in line abreast. To observe them resting gently on the surface of the ocean is by any measure one of the most grand and imposing spectacles an ocean voyage affords. After some time, the whales began to move at a regular and majestic pace, raising their heads partially above the surface, while a fair portion of the back, pitted with a network of wrinkles and indentations was also exhibited. We observed several whales in this large group ‘spyhop’ or protrude their heads vertically above the waves.
Sperm whales do this frequently it allows them to bring surrounding objects, in this case us, within their axis of vision, as the great bulk of their heads obscure their sight directly forward. Then the whales began to leap clear of the surface, what a sight!!! The sheer enormity and uncouth agility of these whales when they breach is something to behold. The gigantic frame of the whale is exposed in its entirety, before plunging back into the sea with a tremendous crash, blue columns of water rising on either side of the descending mass, a short spell of turbulence on the surface, and then all is still again.
As we prepare to continue to track the whales through the night, our work on deck has come to an end for the day, with the sun setting amid a scarlet red backdrop. The stars have begun to sprinkle themselves above us and we are rolling along on a gentle swell with a light breeze at our stern. The pilot house is filled with the sounds of sperm whales, their clicks and codas, a constant and pleasant reminder of the animals lolling and feeding below the Odyssey, moving together in a world of three dimensional space. As the sky darkens and the stars and planets brighten, we have taken out Reb’s book on stars, and noticed that the constellation ‘cetus’ is almost directly above us, shown on the chart to be on the celestial equator. Ironically, ‘cetus’ is the Latin word for whale. Knowing how to read the stars means you are never entirely lost, they will tell you the time, direction on land, air and sea and can be used as familiar guideposts. Once its shape is familiar, a constellation can be spotted in the sky even if you cannot see it in its entirety, perhaps this constellation will continue to guide us to the whales.
Once again the Odyssey and her crew are where they belong, with whales below, and now also above us, we are exhilarated to be spending our Christmas ‘among whales’. The crew of the Odyssey would like to wish you and your families a joyous and happy holiday.
Log by Genevieve & Chris Johnson