Whale-watching trip in the evening – what happens if whales want to communicate with us?

by Thomas Brückmann

Text and Photos: Thomas Brückmann

It has been the last boat ride of the day and on this trip quite a few seats were empty. This way all passengers had the chance to take a front row seat right at the railing.

Bottlenose Dolphins while passing throug School of Bottlenose Dolphins  

It did not take long until we already encountered the first Bottlenose Dolphins. They were curious about our slowly approaching boat and so some of the animals took action and came even further out of the water to breath as they did before. Some of them performed small jumps to see us and get an overview of the situation above the surface. For a while we followed the Bottlenose Dolphins. As they presumably were on their way through the Strait of Gibraltar, they continued their journey.

We as well continued our trip with the firmm SPIRIT towards the Moroccan coast. Shortly after – as so often – also on this boat trip we found a large pod of Pilot Whales that we could easily recognise on their dorsal fins already from a few hundred meters distance. The captain set course parallel to the animals in order not to disturb them and to signal that our boat poses no danger. This way all passengers also had good visibility of the animals from the side of the boat.

Suddenly we could see two of the adult Pilot Whales changing their direction, braking away from the group and setting course for our boat. They swam head-on towards our boat. Just before they reached the boat they submerged and resurfaced on the other side.

Pilot Whale approaching our boat Pilot Whale approaches our boat 
Pilot Whale diving ...along the boat 

Repeatedly they looked at us and eventually they stayed afloat on the ocean surface right in front of the bow of the boat. To the delight of all guests the animal were within one`s reach.

The Pilot Whales were within reach The Pilot Whales were within reach 

To our surprise we suddenly heard the two Pilot Whales making high frequent whistling resp. buzzing sounds which at first sounded like a soft squeak. Most of us got goose bumps. We were witnessing another species vocally trying to get in contact with us, to communicate with us. Just the way Pilot Whales would communicate with each other, they tried in that moment to talk to us. By using their available form of communication.

Although this situation only lasted a few minutes for us the time seemed to be standing still. On board complete silence and absolute amazement prevailed. Everyone starred with wide eyes at the two Pilot Whales swimming directly beside the boat.

When the boat drifted away due to several big waves, the two Pilot Whales submerged slowly and the distance between the boat and the whales increased. Eventually the two turned around to catch up with their pod.

The Pilot Whales slowely move away again The Pilot Whales slowely move away again  

Still completely dazzled by this exceptional encounter we only slowly realised that we have just been witness to a very special moment. In the wild how often does it happen that an intelligent wild animal is trying to get in contact with another intelligent living creature, like us humans.

Scientists researching the communication systems of Bottlenose Dolphins are by now starting to decode the vocal communication of these dolphins with the assistance of special language analysing software and artificial intelligence. In order to understand the animals and furthermore to be able to reply directly. Initial results can be expected already within a few years.

In terms of zoology this would mean a quantum leap forward in knowledge which will most certainly also raise many ethical questions. The ongoing discussion about personal rights for dolphins and generally for all cetaceans as well as for primates is already a highly controversial topic.

This could result in the fact that in front of the law these animals no longer are seen as “items” but as persons with the right to freedom and the right to integrity of one’s own life – the hunt, imprisonment and possession would be illegal and penalized right away.

The firmm SPIRIT continued its journey after this extraordinary encounter and re-entered the harbour of Tarifa after the 2-hour trip. Thereby a whale-watching trip came to its end that surely will linger in the memory of all participants for a long time to come.

Tarifa's port entrance with the statue of "El Sagrado Corazón de Jesús" 


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