Whales on the Equator (Report #52 - 2012)
print this page

Oh so near to Santa Cruz island waiting........waiting for sister canoes to seek their current and wind hindered path back our way. Every hour draws us nearer to the equator and our port of call. Crew have been charged with a question to ponder and respond to. It is - "Describe your feelings, not what you've learned cognitively, about being on the Uto ni Yalo to a family member or friend who has never been at sea especially on a drua!  Their interesting responses follow.

Jim feels at peace, especially on night watch when all is silent. Tuks -"Totoka qai male maleka". Moala - "Uana navu qai ciri loloma". Filo says "You have to do it yourself - I really cannot accurately describe this experience". Ben thinks it's the opportunity of a lifetime that only comes once". Skipper - "You must experience it first hand to really know it!". Kim says this is what living is all about. Bob - "When the line between man and nature is erased, we become one with the ocean". The remainder of the crew will have their quotes in our next article. They choose to put words to feelings at a slower pace.

Can an event be both solemn and joyous at the same time? You be the judge as two memorable things happened to us after lunch today as we neared the equator. In fact after successfully getting us to the Galapagos, the navigators were able to consult the GPS to verify our exact location within the archipelago. We anxiously watched as minute after latitude minute ticked away. Salome couldn't contain herself as she was sure the whale sighting of the previous night presaged our equator crossing. She shared with us that she had faith that the whale would return and lead us across the equator! A tasty lunch was eaten [latitude 00 degrees 7 minutes]! Time seemed to slow as only our perception of time can make us believe. 1300 hours - [latitude 00 degrees 5 minutes]! 1430 hours - someone shouted "look in the distance" and for that one split second we could almost believe those sailors' myths of a physical marker, an indication that we had crossed the equator. Was there a red line that newbies were lead to think existed out here? Better by far was to come.............

It was a whale sighting! In fact it was five whales as witnessed by their blows [clearing water plumes from their airways]. Skipper immediately called for a course modification and we were off toward the equator, a very special rendez-vous with cetaceans and destiny! Was Salome's premonition coming true? As we closed in on the pod we noticed a few amazing things. The first gave us a positive identification. They were Sperm whales and not Humpbacks, Greys or Pilots which we had seen before. How could we be sure? The Sperm whale is the only cetacean that's blow is directed forward of its bulbous head and  skewed to one side!

For me this was a naturalist's dream come true. I had just completed reading James Searl's book "Sounding", a wonderfully researched story of an aging bull Sperm whale and along with the story line there are many well researched facts about cetaceans and Sperms in particular. The crew's excitement was difficult to contain because the second equally amazing thing was that this pod was not about to sound, it remained on a course known best to them and without fear of our closing drua, it stayed on the surface! 

The crew on watch efficiently followed Skipper's commands and maneuvered the drua close enough that we could run parallel to the pod, but as wary whale watchers not interfering with them or their forward progress. The remainder of the crew restrained their joy as the Uto n ni Yalo sailed in abated silence with the sound of water on hull and whale blows dominating the reverent scene. It did not take an edict from Skipper to have us realise that this occurence was indeed special. Firstly Sperms are not usuallly encountered at all and especially not as harbingers for an equator crossing! Secondly this pod showed no fear of the drua and persisted to do what whales do - blow, shallow sound, expose their dorsal fins as they moved along and a very unique treat one or two even paused, raised their large heads and looked at us!

During the intial excitement Hironui ran, yes literally ran, for his camera and his smaller submersible camera with housing and positioned himself where he had unimpeded video shots of the pod in motion and action. LeeAnn was busily using the Uto ni Yalo's cameras, as was Skipper, Mausio, Kim and Bob. Jim had the job of holding the submersible underwater from the bow sprit while Hironui perched beside him in almost disbelief at this rare opportunity. Later Skipper would say that in all his 20+ years at sea this was his first such encounter with Sperm whales. He was just as excited as the rest of us.

By this time Salome had a smile from ear to ear as her earlier premonition eventuated in a manner even she hadn't completely predicted! She was patient enough to wait for the right moment where she could have her photo taken with "her" whales in the background. Filo dutifully recorded everything that transpired in a log for cetacean sightings! Why was this solemn? The crew in awe and understood these moments were special and a "once in a lifetime experience". The mood/tone on the Uto was silent. The silence was an indication that our team understood the importance and significance of what we were observing.

To our utter amazement we were able to follow the pod without harassing them for well over an hour and in the process we crossed the equator. Why were the whales here? Was the larger male deep diving and feeding on giant squid their preferred diet? How old were they? The presumed male was over 20 feet in length, with what could have been two to three cows almost his size and one yearling calf.

We bade them farewell with a satisfaction not easily described. It's that trite but true saying "You cannot fully appreciate the event unless you were there to experience it first hand". The crew of the Uto ni Yalo will not soon forget what they were a part of and the solemnity of the day was not yet over.

Skipper asked that the aft deck be cleared and mats arranged for what has become a nautical traditonal on all vessels that cross equator, a ceremony. The foremat of the ceremony on board our drua is Fijian and while the newbies could have been asked to perform a number of unusual tasks, this was foregone for a yaqona presentation followed by the administration of powder and oil. Surprisingly many of the seaoned veterans aboard had never crossed the equator so they were all a part of the ceremony. Only Skipper, Ben, LeeAnn, Mausio, Hironui, Seta and Bob had crossed the equator by "ship". Salome, Kim, Filo, Seru, Tuks, Kele, Jim, Jone and Moala were initiated into the realm of Neptunus rex!

After the more sedate section of the ceremony those in the crew that played or sang got together and we enjoyed an array of Fijian, English and Tahitian songs. Prompted by the joy of the event Mausio did a "mak Rotuma" his version of dancing to the music. Bob followed as did Kim. The rest roared in amusement.

The musicians entertained us as the sun set and left a blazing trail of wispy pink clouds in the west. The Uto, still a front runner to arrive at Santa Cruz ahead of the fleet, moved silently through the calm equatorial sea and we dined on mashed potatoes and stew! What a wonderful day that will be remembered by all and the Sperm whale saga will be recounted many times over. Until Santa Cruz is near.........

tabu soro Viti....................................................we hope your day and journey will be special too.