MEETING PILOT WHALES
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