Humpback tagging from the whale’s perspective….
Hello readers! I’ve been asked to write a guest post on this blog, so first I think I should introduce myself. My name is Dora. The details of my childhood are quite inconsequential… Summers in the Gerlache, winters in Ecuador, ice helmets… breaching lessons… But rather than my entire life story, maybe a snapshot of today might be more interesting for you, and representative of my life down here.
Now, I’ve only been around the block a few times, and am still figuring out the whole “migration” thing. It’s really hard to slog yourself all the way up north every year, leaving your comfy summering home with cozy bays, every one surrounded by striking mountains and full of crystal blue icebergs! Actually one of my favorite things about Antarctica is the food. It’s unbelievable. The biggest smorgasbord of krill I have ever seen! As such, I was up all night last night gorging myself, and I thought I’d spend the morning snoozing at the surface, assuming I could find a nice quiet spot away from the penguins. [Infernal cooing penguins…]
Surprisingly, only a few hours into my nap, I rolled over to find a very large whale that had come into the bay. In girth, I have never seen its equal (and I hang with some pretty …um… big-boned characters) — he looked like a hippopotamic land mass! I tried to grunt hello, but I didn’t understand his response. It was sort of like this continuous low-rumble, maybe some dialect of blue whale that I missed one of those days I cut class…
- Hi Wayne
But then, HE appeared. You always have this idea in your head of the perfect man, that jock from the chick flick movies, fast and strong, with a nice low frequency song… This guy was all of those things and more. I called him Wayne. I couldn’t believe my luck as he slowly approached, and I became more and more interested as he inched closer and closer to me. He was tall dark and handsome, and stood out from the rest because he lacked a white underbelly (I thought, “Does it have to be black?”, but decided I like a rebel). His voice was deep and mysterious, and I swear he kept whispering sweet nothings in my ear. I rolled around him, showing him my yellow-colored eye patch, grunting, and sweeping my pectoral fins around slowly. He fell for it. Before I knew it, I felt a love tap on my back, and I realized he had given me a ring! Or a piece of bling anyway.
It was great, I felt so special! I followed him everywhere, squeaking, grunting, circling around and investigating every part of his perfect dark form. Hiiii Wayyynnne! Hiii-iii–iiiiiii!! I swam slowly underneath him, first upside down, then rolling on my side, flirtatiously closing the distance between us until I crossed into his personal space. Sometimes I moved slowly and deliberately, giving him a good look at my jagged dorsal fin with a slight bit of scarring (it makes me look tough, yet vulnerable), my shining white underbelly (opposites attract), and my long, sleek rostrum with perfectly clean and unscarred tubercles. I hung just behind him for long periods, gazing longingly into his eyes (well I think those were his eyes). Sometimes I would rise quickly out of the water vertically to show him my buoyancy control. A couple times I got high enough to see his dorsal side, which was covered in strange orange puffy creatures making lots of loud noises. Sometimes they would dip things into the water, and then quickly pull them out and make many high pitched squeaks and energetic calls. So many interesting species in the sea! It’s so sweet that Wayne allows these animals to rest on his back.
Wayne never dove with me though, and soon it became clear that whenever I gave him an inch of room he would run away, remaining distant. I even tried to make him jealous by hanging out with a couple other whales one time, but he backed away that time too. Why wouldn’t he talk to me? Did I come on too strong? Or is he really just not that into me?
Story of my life. At least I know I’ll always have krill. In preparation for tonight’s repeat binge, I cut my losses and tried to relax, even sleeping for a bit (luckily no penguins). But I just kept going over and over the days events in my head, replaying all my spurned advances, and I couldn’t get the picture of beautiful Wayne out of my head. All of a sudden it was all just too much. I was so frustrated I just needed to throw something… like myself. I twitched, dove, pumped my flukes, a few times, and…. WHOOOSH… such a great feeling to fly through the air. Makes me proud to be a humpback. The huge smack upon landing was therapeutic, and after a couple more, I felt refreshed and centered.
Unfortunately I realized that somewhere during that little outburst I had lost my bling. At first I was devastated, and went looking for Wayne. Maybe he found it, and wanted to give it back to me? Or maybe he had another one? But when I found him, he just went away again. I decided I didn’t need him OR his bling. I’ve got everything I need right here — krill, friends, scenery, and plenty of wide open spaces to play in peace and quiet. Life is good. If only I could find a way to get those penguins to leave me alone.
From the scientists’ journal:
Successful day. Deployed one tag on “Dora”, a female humpback. Several close approaches by whale to zodiac during tag attachment. Zodiac drove away from whale to maintain “no effect” distance. Visual survey notes five whales interacting with tagged whale at 12:05:10. These whales left one half hour later. Tagged whale breached at 13:36:54, which caused tag detachment. Tag collected at 13:41:02. Prey mapping mesoscale survey completed and zodiacs brought back on board LM Gould at 14:52:00. CTD and ADCP surveys planned for the rest of the night. Tagging operations resume at 0830 tomorrow morning, pending sufficient light levels.