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Full Circle

Day 146: Wellington to Kaikoura, S. Island

Michael Palin - Full CircleWe have a merciful breather while Snow makes radio contact with a boat which has a device on board to enable it to pick up an 'eco-location' signal - a high frequency sound wave given off by a whale preparing to surface. As soon as one is located we race off again, twin outboards throttled up, just in time to see a tail, or fluke, to give it the correct name, disappear beneath the waves.

'Bummer!' says Snow, as we rise and fall on the heaving swell. 'That'll be another fifty minutes.'

Evidently whales keep regular appearance times. And they have names. Snow thinks that was Henry's tail we saw disappear, but he assures us that Hook, Scar and Knuckles won't be far away. Another message on the radio and he flings us into a 180° turn. 'Time is the game!' shouts Snow, scudding over the waves, but I don't think anyone hears him.

We are lucky. A fourteen foot male lies like a long rock, two-thirds of his body submerged, blowing a spout of water languidly into the air. 'Cleaning out his system,' says Snow. He takes us as close as he's permitted - about forty yards - and points out scars on the whale's back, just below the dorsal, probably from underwater battles. From the spout he can tell when the whale will dive.

That is the most impressive moment of all. The tail fin flicks up, seems to poise motionless above the water before disappearing with extraordinary smoothness and economy of movement, leaving behind a circle of absolutely clear water, an imprint no bigger than a drain cover. 'Sweet!' says Snow, approvingly.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 146
  • Country/sea: New Zealand
  • Place: Kaikoura
  • Book page no: 203

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