A whale of a tale

A whale of a tale

Sometimes, the results are less than frightening and actually quite interesting.

Earthquakes are the reason that Kaikoura is the best place in New Zealand to watch whales, because the shifting plates that we experience as earthquakes have formed a massive canyon under the sea that has become the headquarters for giant sperm whales and other marine life. Getting to the train station in Christchurch made an early start to our day. Kaikoura is two hours by train from the city of Christchurch, so you can easily travel there and back in one day, but if you really want to maximise your chances of seeing a whale then you must consider that bad weather will cancel a trip. In any case, Kaikoura is a nice little seaside village and worth at least one night stay as well as being one of the best places in New Zealand to try seafood.

We were very lucky the day we went whale watching — a huge storm was blowing into the coast but the people at ‘Whale Watch’ hurried us onto the last boat that would leave that day for whale watching. We took some sea sickness pills just in case and prayed that today would be our lucky day as we had travelled half the length of New Zealand to see the whales.

The skipper of the boat made sure that the boat was sitting over the Kaikoura Canyon and explained the habits of the sperm whales that live off Kaikoura’s coastline. The whales that live here are all young to adolescent males, who generally just hang around in the canyon feasting on what the skipper called the “fast food of the ocean” — giant squid! Young male whales grow to maturity here and only migrate away from here when they are ready to find a wife, he told us. They have to travel some way to find the female whales, often migrating to the South Pacific island of Tonga, where female whales like to live. Sperm whales may be the biggest toothed whales in the world, but they are not easy to spot. They have a habit of floating just beneath the surface of the ocean, their rounded heads and their habit of blowing water out of their spout in a sideway direction means that they are not easy to spot in the vast ocean. Worse, at least for excited whale watchers, sperm whales can stay under the water for up to an hour without needing to draw breath!

Our eyes scanned the ocean in every direction, and suddenly someone squealed with delight and pointed excitedly in the direction of a few puffs of water rising from the ocean.

The boat slowly got closer and floating in the waves and spouting was our first sight of a sperm whale. The skipper knew we were close to some action and urged us all to keep a watch for the most heart-stopping sight of all: a giant sperm whale tale slapping the ocean as the whale dived deep into the ocean! All too soon it was time to race the storm back to shore. As our boat left the giant sperm whales basking in the ocean, pods of Hector dolphins ducked and dived in the bow of the boat.

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