24th April: Overwhelming encounter with sperm whales
by firmm Team
Text: Alicia Lipsky, volunteer for firmm; Photos: firmm
It seemed to be a normal trip with the firmm Spirit. During the first 30 minutes we saw a few bottlenose dolphins surfing the waves in front of a huge cargo ship and some pilot whales which curiously observed us from a distance. Then Katharina spotted the distinct blow of a sperm whale a few hundred meters ahead of us.
Carefully we went closer and soon we were able to see that there were three sperm whales floating side by side at the surface. Usually sperm whales dive for about 1.5 hours and then refill their lungs with oxygen at the surface for only about 10 to 15 minutes before they dive again in a right angle and almost in slow motion. The highlight of any sperm whale sighting is therefore the moment when they dive, as the mighty fluke can then be seen. So we waited patiently for the whales to have stored enough oxygen in the hope of some good pictures of their flukes.
Instead, something really astonishing happened. The sperm whales did not dive but rolled in the water, hit the water with their flukes and turned around on their backs so that their mouth and belly were visible. Moreover, there were families of pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins approaching from all sides. They gathered around our boat and observed the sperm whale spectacle as well. This was really impressive. One did not know in which direction to look: there were jumping dolphins and pilot whales which wanted to participate in this “marine mammal meeting” taking place before our eyes.
There were at least 50 bottlenose dolphins and 80 pilot whales of whom some came right up to the boat and dove underneath. The pilot whales even brought their newborn babies.
On the boat it was completely silent; everyone was left speechless, the atmosphere was almost mystical and did not seem to be of this world. Surrounded by marine mammals, it was as if time had stopped and we could not believe that that which we were observing was real. The whales and dolphins themselves apparently had a lot to talk about; one could hear them snatter, click and whistle. It would have been nice to know what they were chatting about!
At some point Katharina was able to comment about the observations and told us over the speaker that we were observing a sperm whale mating. She also said that in a whale mating there are often three animals involved as one individual is assisting the others. The spectacle continued for several hours and the sperm whales never dove. Instead they came closer and closer and at some point they were floating directly beside the boat. This was very impressive as these animals are about 18m long and probably could have easily overturned our boat, which is only 16m long. But the whales were all peaceful, seemed not disturbed by our presence and allowed us to observe this amazing spectacle.
After 3 hours we had to go back on land and say goodbye to the sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales. This trip was an unforgettable experience for everybody and we are very grateful that we were able to observe a sperm whale mating.