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The Magnificence of the Humpback Whale

By Rosie Hoban, CetaceaLab intern, 29th November 2018

The Moment

Have you ever had a moment that completely grounded you? One of those Oh-Sweet-Lord-is-this-really-happening-to-me moments? Heart beating in your mouth, feeling simultaneously both alive and yet strangely removed? Seeing a Humpback Whale, mouth agape, burst through the ocean surface during a ‘bubble net feed’ some 50m from Fin Island cabin was one of those moments for Rob.

Photo © Janie Wray

Rob was happily on his 3rd coffee for the morning. Janie was stationed at her desk working at the computer and I was drifting around tidying in the kitchen. Through the pair of ‘big eye’ binoculars, Rob was in a concentrated daze shifting his gaze across Squally Channel where the surrounding shores of Pitt, Campania and Gill Islands came into view.

He had just finished an enjoyable conversation with Janie and a smile was held at the corner of his mouth as he considered his situation. A devoted surfer and water-baby through and through, he was at complete peace in his surroundings. In our time here so far, he had braved the hypothermic temperatures to gaze into the 800m deep ocean depths below, moved our tent to be within meters of the ocean and its soothing gurgles and constantly planned when he could next get in the kayak or throw in a line. Any opportunity to get closer to that saltwater God to which he worships.

Photo © Janie Wray

“Hey guys,’ Rob started lightly, his eyes peeling away from the binoculars to focus on something closer. “I think I’m seeing a lot of bubbles. Slowly his voice started to increase in pace and pitch.


Photo © Janie Wray

I rushed to view where he was pointing within a stone’s throw of our cabin but sadly missed the whole affair. His eyes were large and his limbs moved wildly about himself, unable to contain his unbridled joy. When our eyes met I knew he was having that moment and couldn’t stop a giggle escaping. He was still lost in the experience. Elevated by the proximity of a creature who spent its entire existence underwater yet miraculously demonstrated behaviour and intellect not so different from our own. A creature that feeds milk to her offspring and sings songs. A creature that appears to watch, learn and then model habits. A creature who works with their counterparts in a bid to increase each other’s chances of a good feed. A mother of the ocean, a gentle giant, the humpback whale.

Photo © Janie Wray

This reminded me about something I had heard once called the ‘wilding movement.’ It’s a sentiment that we need to reconnect with nature to discover our ‘real’ selves.

Initially, I was somewhat cynical of my millennial peers who touted these ideas while posing for Instagram selfies holding almond milk chai lattes and sporting man-buns. However, being at Fin island is educating me. Giving me a real definition of what it means and how it feels to be wild. Something awakens in you, a primal alertness that stimulates the senses faster than a ‘red eye’ coffee. It’s something your body recognizes before your mind can categorize into pictures and then subtract into words. It’s like the shock of swimming in ice cold water that gives you ice cream headaches and blurs your vision but then leaves you buzzing as the sun dries your skin. It’s like the effect of being showered in a cacophony of green light during a ‘bushwhack’ in the forest.  With every touch, every inhalation the green moss and lichen, the soggy wet ground, the ancient barks of cedars, firs and ivy etch themselves into your skin, into your lungs. Days when the ocean is covered by a fog so still and heavy that you can’t tell where the ocean ends and the sky begins and everything looks two dimensional.  The sound of a paddle gently rippling a glass-like ocean surface as you canoe through the mirror image of sky and trees. Its the taste of salty dried sea kelp and the sound an animal breathing that is over 10 times your size. Its as if your very cells are vibrating.

Photo © Janie Wray

Its only been one and a bit weeks out here on Fin Island but more and more I’m comprehending the weight of Janie’s words. It’s beyond the limitations of my neurochemistry to describe and I can only attempt to explain it as something ancient yet ever-present. If it’s not a God, it’s certainly a spirituality of some kind. A sense of something bigger, something greater. It makes me wonder about indigenous people’s connection to their natural world. How intrinsically they are aligned with it. Maybe this is the way we were designed to live?

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