JAMES GETS A SEC­OND CHANCE TO PHO­TO­GRAPH A SPERM WHALE BUT THIS TIME IT’S IN UK WA­TERS.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Tales From The Bush - Do you have a tale that you would like to share? If so, please email a syn­op­sis of your idea to james.fair@im­me­di­ate.co.uk

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.

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