Whale Watching – An Incredible Experience
by Save Our Seas Foundation / Peter Verhoog
Being a CEO and underwater photographer for the Save Our Seas Foundation is a privilege. Conservation photography is an excellent tool to raise awareness, like in my photo stories about Palau and the crittercam team of National Geographic (see article section). But not every encounter is a happy encounter…
During a private trip along the Wild Coast, we saw many humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), travelling north to the waters of Madagascar, where they mate. By June, the first to arrive after a 5000km voyage are the breastfeeding mothers, followed by their offspring from the previous year. It is all the more spectacular as the humpback whales are the most gifted in the art of jumping called “ breaching”. They have the peculiar capacity to get out of water entirely, and fall down with impressive flurries of foam. The gentle giants make a great image, both under and above the surface.
I even got the chance to see and photograph whales below the surface, a true delight. And we were approached by a young, playful humpback, that slowly circled our zodiac.
But on one sunny day during our trip, we met a dying subadult whale, that was still travelling north despite its extremely bad condition. It had been swimming along the coast in this state for a few days and was spotted before, also by scientists Alison Kock of Save Our Seas and Australian scientist Dr. Charlie Huveneers. They took samples which were sent to the lab, hoping these would give a clear indication of why this poor creature was dying. Unfortunately, the cause of the problem could not be identified.
Its skin was covered in parasitic crustaceans (Cyamid spec.), also known as whale lice, external parasites, found in skin lesions, genital folds, nostrils and eyes of marine mammals of the order Cetaceans. Around 7,500 whale lice live on a single whale and usually feed off the flaking skin of the host, and frequent wounds or open areas. They cause minor skin damage, but this does not lead to significant illness. This poor creature was ill, and that probably caused a weakness of the skin, so the whale lice could multiply explosively as they could feed off the skin.
The young whale ploughed through the waters, breathing heavily, slowly swimming. I watched it for a while, and took some pictures. Then we left. Never before in my life I wished for the death of one of these majestic creatures, but that particular day I did…
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