What is it about whales in particular that you find so fascinating?
If you ever do have a close encounter with a whale, your life will probably never be the same again, and it’s as simple as that. I’ve run many whale watching trips all over the world, and more times than I can remember it has changed people’s lives. It’s such an incredible experience.
Part of it is the size. The average blue whale is roughly the length of a Boeing 737. If you’re in a small boat next to one of those, you’d have to be a lump of rock not to be moved by that experience. They’re really impressive animals to look at.
They’re also quite challenging to find, so one of the great things about wildlife watching is that you have to put the time in, and eventually you get lucky. It makes the encounter all the more exciting, because you’ve worked for it.
There’s also still some mystery surrounding them, because we don’t know a lot about them and what they get up to. It’s quite extraordinary, because a sperm whale can dive down to depths of 3km and hold its breath for two hours. It’s like a living submarine. So just knowing that that’s what they’re up to between sightings is pretty special.
They’re just phenomenal animals; they live to great ages and some care for their young for literally years, and there are a lot of human traits you can see in them. Goodness knows how many thousands of hours I have spent watching whales and I still can’t wait until the next time.
I usually spend part of the winter in Baja California, and one of the places we go there is called San Ignacio Lagoon, and it’s where grey whales go to breed. You go out in little boats and the whales literally swim up alongside the boats, and they lie upside down and you scratch and tickle them under the chin and they want to hang out with you.
I’ve spent weeks and weeks in San Ignacio, and it blows me away every time, because you just can’t believe it’s happening. Not even that long ago, in some of the older whales’ living memory, we were hunting them in that lagoon, and yet they seem to have forgiven us and treat us like friends, and it’s a really humbling experience.
Although whaling is now more under control, and they have a chance to bounce back, there are still lots of other threats such as overfishing. Thousands of whales get tangled up in fishing nets and lines and drown every year. Hundreds of thousands of whales get tangled up in fishing nets and lines and drown every year.
Underwater noise from oil and gas drilling and shipping is another big threat to them, because they are kind of like bats in the dark. Sound is really important for them. And then, of course, climate change is another issue, as it’s affecting where the food is and the seasons. So there are still many threats facing them these days.
I’m currently working on a photobook about these whales, and the profits are going to be donated to protect the lagoon. It will include a lot of pretty pictures, but there will also be pictures showing the issues. So I’ll be showing that it’s a wonderful place and that these are wonderful animals, but also that there are some issues that we need to do something about.