By Joan Larsen
I was at the Ends of the Earth – this time so far South on the curve of the world, standing on ice so thick and slick, that it seemed a momentary slip would send me careening away. Beauty not seen anywhere else on Earth was around us, stunning us as it always did. But this day – this day of days – our attention was on a scene never filmed before, of a pod of sleek and shiny killer whales all trying to take their first needed breath of air in this small space opened in the ice right in front of us.
The photographers called it “a moment in time” as they clicked wildly to capture this rare moment.
I called it “a piece of heaven”. . . and I could be found scooting on my stomach on the 10 foot thick ice, on the whales’ eye level, talking to them. This was their first time seeing humans. Selfishly, perhaps, I wanted it to be me in my bright red parka that caught their eyes. I wanted to commune with the whales in a way I had never done. There was no other opening for air in many miles. Whales vied for position to breathe and look around, taking turns. It was a time I never wanted to end.
No one spoke afterward, caught in their own thoughts. I thought that life would never be this good again.
When we are children, we all dream, don’t we? Something within me was strong even then, wanting to make the dreams happen. I must have been an unusual little girl. I did not want to be a princess. I wanted to meet all the whales in my childhood books instead. I had a special bond even then.
I did follow my dream. It took daring as it turned out. To have a whale come up to you while you are in a small Zodiac raft is a bit off-putting. But being on a tiny rickety boat in the Atlantic – off the coast of southern Argentina – while searching for “southern right whales” provided more thrill and danger than anyone would expect. And everyone knows kayaking is “my thing”, but the heart does beat exceptionally fast when a small-ship-size whale surfaces alongside, over and over, eyeing you, wanting to be a close friend.
As you watch the short video below, taken off our own Big Sur, just know I wanted – really wanted – to be in that kayak when the whale breached and shot in the air.
On a trip to Greenland and the high islands of the Canadian Arctic, we had naturalists on board who were as interested as I was in finding NARWHALS – the most unusual looking whale in all the world. What looks like a 6 foot long spear stands up from their heads, looking like a dueling piece. In reality it is a single molar in their mouths – completely gone wild. We spent a day watching them trying to snatch whale breaths while caught in ever moving ice that at times hemmed scores of them in.
Who wouldn’t love Australia and be willing to travel far to get there? The Great Barrier Reef has, at times, been my other home, with the most glorious assortment of fish on earth. But, it is so obvious to me that so many species of whales like to drift in those waters, replete with plenty for dinner – and beauty beyond compare as well.
There is a secret place – one of my secret places in Western Australia for underwater activities – that is a bit remote, not very known . . . and called Esperance. You can come and call it your own, as you are lulled by its quiet waves as you drift on a board. You will have not a care in the world.
A drone made an overhead video, recently taken there – a video that I put on many times an evening and find irresistible. You will as well. In this slow-moving ocean you will see a paddle boarder, alone with two “much in love” Southern Right whales – who have decided to honeymoon there. The music of the song “Imagine” sets the scene magically.
The natural world – wherever you meet up with it – has its way with your mind and with your heart. And isn’t that what the good life is all about?
I know those words to be true.
To have a huge friendly whale willingly approach your boat
and look you straight in the eye
Is without doubt
one of the most extraordinary experiences
On the planet.
– Sylvia Earle
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”