Friday, September 12, 2008

WineDark WhaleTracks

Tonight the humpbacks visited whilst we waited for whiting to mesh in the nets. Just after sunset they mesh, so we set at dusk and then wait...twitchy with the need to pick up and see what's there, making ourselves wait just that little bit longer - but not too long in case those dastardly squid eat the lot.
Sometimes the waiting is easy. Something is going on, or the weather is still and warm. Sometimes we sit in the tinny while the wind blows across the stern and slops water everywhere. I get cold, grumpy, (I get grumpy when cold) and just want to go home.
Tonight the sun set over the elite houses and scrubby dunes. At some indefinable moment of half light, (which moment?) all of the motorbike frogs started up from the swamp behind the primary dune.
A fishing couple on the beach turned on their gas lamp. Mare's tails and mackeral scales, a sure sign of storms to come, dotted and streaked the sky with crazy colour. On the other side of the dinghy the distant island glowed magenta and monstrous white water crashed against her rocks.
Three humpbacks. Two of them cruised out of the bay when I cut the motor. The third kept his distance but nearby. I watched his footprints just moving slowly across the bay.
(Footprints: caused by the massive displacement of water on the downward thrust of a whale's tail underwater. The water rises to the surface, incompressible, and leaves a flat oily circle, unbroken by wind, wake or wave.) They stay on the surface for an age.
Of course there was an old whaler on board and he explained all this to me. I am enchanted by these footprints, by the closeness of this beast, his massive bulk beneath the surface betrayed by these circles of calm.
Then he surfaced, presented a mottled fin and rolled sideways to look at us. His head was all bumpy and alien, cowled in barnacles and glistening with brine. He blew and then arched straight over into a dive.
"That means he's diving deep," Old Salt told me. "The way he arched so sharp like that. He won't come up for a while."
We began looking around for footprints. Like a horse, when you sit in a paddock and ignore it, eventually the horse cannot help itself. Curiousity gets the better of studied indifference as the horse eats its way in a spiral to your feet.
Suddenly there he was! About 20 metres from the boat! We both stood in the very little tinny. "Jeez," said Old Salt, "Hope he doesn't have any barnacles he wants to rub off."
He dived again. Then a footprint right next the boat. I was spinning around trying to find the next one. I turned the wrong way.
Finally, turning clockwise instead of withershins, I saw it - a perfect clock face of footprints. We stood in the centre like two hands.

The whale had circled us completely and when we saw him again he was heading out into open water, blowing and then arching into another deep dive.
"Well." Said I.
The water was completely still, glassed off, sun setting, silent except for those frogs. We stood in the dinghy, in a perfect circle of whale tracks.
"This is quite unpleasant," said Old Salt. "I can think of better things to do, like sitting on my lounge, watching T.V. or something."


  1. Wow! Looking forward to following this one!

  2. Wow thats just amazing.. I think i shall come fishing with you asap!

    Can we catch the squid as well, I get hungry often!

  3. Hey Juice! the only squid we catch are scooping them up as they are attached to whiting and goatfish in the nets. I call out to Old Salt "Squid!"as we pick up But unfortunately he is deaf as a post so often ignores me. It's all his fault.