Extraordinary Sperm Whale Sighting

by Katharina Heyer

Pigmento / Mondrino

6 May 2010, 12.00h morning-excursion / Text and photo: Katharina Heyer

After some rough days the sea presented itself astonishingly calm again. As we were crossing the Strait of Gibraltar we encountered our first family of resting Pilot Whales. Some were already swimming in the direction of the Mediterranean Sea while others were slowly drifting with the current. Some younger curios whales came to inspect our boot. We let the boat drift with the current, to let many Pilot Whale families catch up and pass us.  A few middle-sized teenagers came to the boat for a longer time, romped about directly under our guests, who greatly enjoyed themselves. I was already thinking about turning back when suddenly a Sperm Whale coincidentally swam beside the Pilot Whales. Nobody had seen him surface, unexpectedly he was there. It was not necessary to maneuver the boat around it was perfectly situated parallel to the whale just about 50 meters away.

He was breathing regularly, not hyperventilating, what they normally do after coming up from the bottom of the sea to refill their body with air. Before I was able to say anything, Diego shouted out it was the whale Pigmento. We immediately recognized the for Pigmento typical light patches, which presumably came from the embrace of a giant squid. Indeed it was Pigmento, who we have known for several years. We assume Pigmento is a female, who we repeatedly sighted with a calf in 2007. Moreover in the afternoon of the same day we saw another Sperm Whale. This one was a lot smaller than Pigmento and could possibly be her calf. Besides these two there were no Sperm Whale sightings recently, so the assumption that both of them are traveling together suggests itself. Juvenile Sperm Whales stay with their mothers for approximately 7 years.

After some time Pigmento classically dove off, meaning she tightened up, disappeared for a short moment, came up again showing us her arching back and submerged vertically.

To this point everything seemed quite normal. We all were still dazed of this amazing descent. I had just announced, that we would be returning to Tarifa as to our surprise Pigmento reappeared once again, only 50 meters away.

The female Sperm Whale almost turned around her own axis because some Pilot Whales had appeared next to her. What followed was what everybody wishes for: Pigmento arched her back again and dove off for a second time.

Once again she was showing her big fluke close up. As the time indicated on the photos show, the time span between the first descent and re-surfing of Pigmento was only 3 minutes and the vertically submerging tail fin was only 5 minutes apart.

Never before in these 12 years have I witnessed a whale reappearing after diving vertically for the first time, to show its sensational submerging tail fin a second time to the guests!

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