MEET­ING PI­LOT WHALES

Scuba Diver Australasia - - Contents - By Clau­dia We­ber-Ge­bert

The first time I vis­ited Tener­ife, I was cap­ti­vated by the idea of shoot­ing the res­i­dent pi­lot whales – a pro­tected species re­quir­ing the per­mis­sion of the Span­ish gov­ern­ment to swim with. It was a dream that seemed im­pos­si­ble.

Back home, I could not aban­don the thought, so I bus­ied my­self re­search­ing how to gain ap­proval from the Span­ish gov­ern­ment. I was de­ter­mined to shoot these won­der­ful crea­tures that found their home around the Ca­nary Is­lands.

Nine months later, I found my­self in a small boat at the coast­line of Tener­ife Is­land, 1000 me­tres of wa­ter be­neath me, wait­ing for the mo­ment where I could fi­nally meet the pi­lot whales. The weather con­di­tions were ideal – calm wa­ters, a slight breeze, with warm rays of the sun beat­ing on our backs. At first, the whales were trav­el­ling too fast; we could only take sur­face pic­tures, or dip our cam­eras into the wa­ter. Even that in it­self was a won­der­ful feel­ing: They were so close we even got a whiff of their breath – not a pleas­ant smell I must ad­mit!

Sud­denly, Ser­gio Han­quet, our guide, turned the boat and told us to get ready to slip into the wa­ter. I put my mask and fins on and sat at the edge of the boat, hold­ing my cam­era tight. And then I heard the magic word, “Go!”

Im­me­di­ately, I let my­self slip into the wa­ter as qui­etly as pos­si­ble. My hus­band did the same. We care­fully swam in the di­rec­tion of the pod – wow, what a feel­ing! The whales kept a dis­tance, then turned and swam away. It was breath­tak­ing.

Back on the small boat, we re­peated this procedure sev­eral times; Ser­gio would look for the best op­por­tu­ni­ties, watch­ing the small groups of pi­lot whales in the ocean, and then ad­vanc­ing to­ward them. As we spot­ted a huge dor­sal fin,

Ser­gio once again in­structed us to be pre­pared.

I was al­ready sit­ting on the edge of the rock­ing boat when I heard the “Go”.

I jumped into the wa­ter and found my­self di­rectly in front of a huge male adult. This one was huge, re­ally huge, and it was com­ing closer. At that mo­ment, a thou­sand thoughts were run­ning through my head: “He must have seen me”, “Did he re­ally see me? I hope not…”, “Is this dan­ger­ous?” The story of a woman pulled down 40 me­tres by a pi­lot whale came to mind. I was snapped back to re­al­ity, re­al­is­ing that I should be tak­ing pic­tures.

I put my cam­era in front of my body, as if that tiny thing could pro­tect me against a whale, and pushed the trig­ger.

When I fi­nally made eye con­tact with the whale, I was sud­denly over­come with emo­tion. This ma­jes­tic crea­ture no­ticed me. He drifted past, keep­ing me in his field of view be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing into the blue. I will never for­get those eyes, gen­tle and a lit­tle sad, and the strength I felt from them – what a mov­ing mo­ment!

When I lifted my head out of the wa­ter again, the two men on the boat were laugh­ing. “That was a huge one, wasn’t it?” Ser­gio chuck­led.

Gov­ern­ment per­mis­sion must be given to swim with the pi­lot whales of Tener­ife

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