“Blows! …”, came the cry from the top of the mast head as the spotter on the whaleboat Donkergat alerted the harpoon gunner to the family of feeding humpback whales surfacing after a long dive.
Fifty-five years later, I am back in these self-same waters plied by whalers where, for near-on sixty years, a crimson-coloured ocean has been the indelible stain left by a massacre of over 20,000 of its most sentient inhabitants. But this time, the thud of the harpoon striking the gentle giant is replaced by the fire of another Canon – the innocuous click of my camera’s shutter.
It is a tale of a hunt, but one with a very different outcome.
For years, I have watched in awe as huge gatherings of humpback whales, sometimes in their hundreds, have congregated off the west coast of South Africa.
It is complete sensory experience:
Sight as you first see them, spouting in the distance and then fluking and breaching on closer approach,
Sound, as you hear them deeply inhaling and exhaling,
Smell as they belch and flatulate in fishy exhalation,
And finally, Touch, as their ghost-like exhalations cover you in a misty shower of reflective contemplation.
In times gone by, this animal was relentlessly pursued as a bloody, oily commodity. Now it is revered as a symbol of hope. A hope that if we give the Ocean and our Earth a chance to breathe, we can share them with more and more of these wonderful creatures who, only a few feet away from me, allow me to trustingly interact with them.
Humpback whale populations have recovered substantially since the end of the whaling era, and each time I share space with them, I am filled with optimism.
It is rare to be able to capture more than one engaging and complimentary tail in the frame and a scene that gives the sense of multiple whales in unison, but I feel that this image strikes just the right balance in achieving the desired outcome.
Classic: 118cm (46.5”) x 83.5 cm (33”)
Large: 146cm (57.5”) x 103.5 cm (40.7”)
Exhibition: 173cm (68”) x 122.5 cm (48”)
© Chris Fallows 2018