The End in Sight

25th Apr 2003 When on April 15th the big swell settled enough for us to get out again, we were able to get down to some serious whale-watching at last. The whales never put on such a spectacular display again as they had done on those first magic couple of days, but nonetheless showed up everyday sooner or later.

However as the days went by, even if it was all too frequently beyond the range of our cameraman, we were treated to the full range of humpback behaviour, with breaching (leaping vertically from the water); pec-slapping (slapping the water with their outsize pectoral fins), fluking and tail-lobbing all in evidence.

For identification purposes it was of course the fluke shots that we were particularly anxious for, since each whale has a very distinctive pattern on the underside of his flukes, but they proved tantalisingly reluctant to stick their tails in the air when they dived. Simon reckoned he got about a half dozen good fluke shots for his trouble.

Humpback HillSome days the whales were more in evidence on the hydrophone than they were visually, and Simon was able to make plenty of recordings of their song. It enabled us to roughly position whales that we didn't even get a glimpse of. An interesting pattern emerged comprising maybe up to a dozen singing whales, regularly positioned in a double line 4 or 5 miles offshore and parallel to the coast, with each whale about a mile away from the next. We called this set-up ‘Humpback Alley'. Simon said they would be all males, looking to attract receptive females.

They also seemed to me constitute an effective shield for the sheltered water within, in the brooding presence of the volcano that we called ‘Humpback Hill'. Here on several occasions we caught up with a mother and calf, sometimes accompanied by a third whale and sometimes not. Whether or not it was always the same mother and calf, will hopefully be revealed by careful examination of the photos. When we first saw them they were just ‘logging', chilling out on the surface of the warm, shallow water, but as the days went by they seemed to get more active, doing laps around the bay and occasionally going ballistic; we even saw them breeching and tail-lobbing together on one occasion.

Our favourite anchorage at Sal Rei was just south-east of the island, off the old fort there that is complete with its 6 rusty old canons. It is not only the safest and least rolly, but also the most pleasant, and with the advantage that the fort constitutes an excellent look-out point for whales. The only draw-back is that it is a long windward struggle to get ashore; up beside the new pier is the best place for that. A lot further upwind was the diversion to Palmeira to pick up Kevin MacCormick (Mac), but besides himself and the goodies he brought, and a lovely Maundy Thursday Mass in the little chapel beside the landing there, we were rewarded with a fine blue marlin on the way back, having, after the loss of two lures, at last rigged the line with a decent bit of bungy cord.

Home from the SeaThere were 4 meals in him, along with some to give away. The push-pit barbecue is the only job for fish, by the way, and functions exceptionally well in the trade wind!

Also by the way, my digital camara is refusing to function on any of the batteries in the boat; it only works when plugged into the ship's inverter, so I'm limited to taking photos from the companion-way. Maybe it's just as well, it's hard enough to find time for what you have. But here is a photo of the biggest boat in Sal Rei heading home. Guys like this make me feel at home. To my mind, about the most important thing in fisheries management is to