JAMES GETS A SECOND CHANCE TO PHOTOGRAPH A SPERM WHALE BUT THIS TIME IT’S IN UK WATERS.
October 1999. I was on a gap year in New Zealand to see the natural wonders of the country. In the nutrient-rich waters off Kaikoura, against a backdrop of snowdusted mountains, a sperm whale dived and gracefully lifted its iconic tail to the gasps of an appreciative audience on a tourist boat.
It was as though it was waving goodbye – after three whale-watching trips in succession, I was about to return to shore with some happy memories but in the knowledge I’d be moving on soon and unlikely to witness this beautiful sight again. I didn’t even have a proper camera for a souvenir photo.
Fast forward 14 years and the exciting news of a sperm whale lingering around Oban on the west coast of Scotland had me reaching for my phone. Could I get there in time to see it? Travel abroad is difficult these days with a job and family commitments, but . . . a sperm whale? Off Oban? It was only an eight-hour journey and I had a strong wish to set eyes on one again. It would be like seeing an old friend.
It seemed crazy but, if nothing else, I’d get to see some nice scenery. I rounded up some friends and we headed north from London.
Bleary eyes the next morning were moistened by a nip in the air. It was calm and clear and going to be a good day. The still waters of Oban Bay were initially broken only by the odd gull dropping in for a dip, while a few local ‘tysties’ (black guillemots) buzzed about the sound.
Then came the shout. The whale was still here! Word got around fast and local residents started to gather on the quay. A TV news crew appeared and asked questions about the whale and how far we had travelled. And there it was – a dark line breaking the surface of the water and the occasional blow betraying its presence, but mostly it was out of view and surprisingly unobtrusive for a creature of its size.
However, with persistence (and some good optics) we observed more than just this logging behaviour, with the beast even spyhopping on one occasion. I wondered if I might get that picture that had so eluded me in New Zealand. It seemed a tall order and the whale was still some way out.
Then it started to move closer to the shore. Residents overlooking the bay had a rare and amazing view of the cetacean from their windows. I’m sure that can’t happen very often! I broke away from watching the whale to quickly scan for birds only to hear an excited shout from my companion: “It’s fluking, it’s fluking!”
Swinging round, I captured some shots just in time. There was that wonderful tail I would have photographed all those years ago if only I’d had a proper camera. Actually I think the seafront houses on the Scottish mainland create a much more intriguing picture than the Antipodean mountain scenery. I finally got my souvenir.
“IT WAS ONLY AN EIGHT-HOUR JOURNEY AND I HAD A STRONG WISH TO SEE ONE AGAIN. IT WOULD BE LIKE SPOTTING AN OLD FRIEND.”
A sperm whale in Oban Bay, Scotland, created excitement amongst a crowd of spectators, which included James.