My path became clear when I caught a Facebook post of some extraordinary whale footage by a BBC wildlife photographer, Patrick Dykstra. At the end of the clip, it mentioned that he allows a few people to accompany him on his filming expeditions. Bingo! I emailed him and he had a spot he was trying to fill.
My time in the water with whales began where that footage had been shot, in a fjord in northern Norway, late November of 2016. Warm in a drysuit, floating above them, I watched orcas and humpbacks feast on herring. Orcas darted wildly this way and that, rounding them up. Humpbacks took advantage of the orcas’ hard work and lunged through the herring with their mouths wide open.
I felt sure they knew exactly where I was, but that I was of no concern to them. My fondest recollections are of the two humpbacks who glided silently right beneath me and of the striking beauty of the orcas shining in the low light and murky Arctic water. My exposure to the whales in Norway was over-the-top thrilling, but I knew there was more for me to experience. My passion led me on.
A few months later, I made my way to Sri Lanka to join Patrick during his time with blue whales. They are quite shy. It isn’t easy to catch even a fleeting underwater glimpse of one. Patrick is skilled at making it happen, and I did get to see a female with a calf hidden on the other side of her. It was all over in a flash. Topside we were able to be quite close to these magnificent beings without disturbing them. As phenomenally blessed as I felt, my time with these whales was not what my heart most yearned for, as there was no sense of connection.
My chance to meet sperm whales took me to Dominica a few months ago. There are several groups of resident females there. The males wander the seas alone and return for breeding. Patrick told me sperm whales are less shy, but I had no idea that I’d have close encounters with them that would change my life. My first time in the water brought me face to face with a large female. She came straight to us, clicking curiously for information. Then she began to swim, slowly as if to allow us to join her. We swam by her side as she and I looked right at each other from less than 10 feet away! Our days on the water were full of astonishing encounters, topside as well as in the water.
Perhaps our daily invocations helped, but somehow we happened upon something that is rarely witnessed, seven sleeping whales! They sleep vertically. Finding them asleep is very difficult, since they don’t click while sleeping. We depended on hearing their clicks on the hydrophone to locate them. What an otherworldly thing to witness! Even the boat captain and mate took turns going in to see it.
There were five females and two calves. They were aware of our presence and I feel certain that they intentionally allowed us to be there. We spent nearly four hours with them. They slept for about 20 minutes, surfaced for a while, then went back to sleep. They expelled breath while sleeping, and it’s magical to watch the rising bubbles. Unbeknownst to me, I happened to be floating above some and felt a bubble burst on my belly. I also reached out to catch one in my hand … mind blowing!
My heart’s longing to be with whales will never be fully satisfied, but I am at peace now. My time with the sperm whales was intimate and full of connection. I have much to integrate from them. It is profound to consider the spiritual implications of our time together. There was likely much more going on than I can know. It was certainly a meeting of souls, perhaps even an exchange of energetic information. I know that I am not the same. I feel blessed, gifted by them and so in love!
Underwater photographs by Patrick Dykstra. Topside photos by Andrea Steffen.
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