So Big but Rarely Seen – Fiordland Whales

“On a Mish” #371 So Big but Rarely Seen. Entrance to Patea / Doubtful Sound. Fiordland National Park. 27.11.2018. Making memories is a part of life that some people put more effort into. Reminiscing about sitting on the couch isn’t as good as a good adventure / sightseeing mission. Sometimes the adventure can be enhanced by seeing animals and here in Aotearoa (especially in Fiordland) we have some very rare creatures that are only seen by a very lucky few. It is funny that the biggest of all these animals are possibly one of the rarest of them all…

The whales that cruise the Fiordland coast are so big but rarely seen. The Cetaceans seen in Aotearoa are usually viewed in Kaikoura where sightings are very common at times. Over on the West Coast in Fiordland there is only a period of around a month when whales can be seen, as the Humpback whales migrate to cooler waters in the south.

So far my first season as Team Leader on the Fiordland Navigator had gone as smooth as the waters of the fiord on a calm night. The team was getting to know the ways of the boat and we had seen some incredible sights in the couple of months we had been together. The experienced members had helped out the newbees (including me!) with all the dos and don’t of living / working on the Navi, and these seasoned sailors had also pointed out the epic moments that keep them coming back season after season.

It is around mid November when Whales start to pop up in the conversations around the dinner table, and after a brief encounter with the massive sea creatures in Kaikoura I was super keen for another close encounter but my time was limited due to me heading off to Nepal at the end of November.

The small community of boats in the fiord are a great way of getting the Doubtful Sound news. When Dolphins are spotted, usually their location is made known to most so they can also get a chance to see nature’s circus performers. To see a pod of Dolphins is magic and when they start to play I have seen adults shove kids aside to get a better view! You don’t see the Dolphins everyday but an encounter usually happens at least every couple of shifts. Whales are much, much rarer.

It was around mid November when the first sightings were reported but unfortunately we only saw vacant water when we arrived at the locations. Time was ticking and I was preparing myself for a season without seeing a Whale.

Trips on the Navigator have a rough plan of activities to follow and as much as the crew would like it we can’t spend the time looking for Whales. I only had one trip left before my mish to Nepal and I was hoping going on a charity trek would be enough good karma for me to see something!

As the engines fired up and we began our trip west I knew this was going to be it. By the time I got back from overseas it would be too late.

The weather was excellent and earlier that day there had been sightings of a pod near the entrance so we got the water activities (kayaking and tender boats) out of the way first so we would have more time out at the Tasman Sea. Jobs done, let’s go!

We got to the Tasman and it was a rare day when the water was settled. Our Skipper Dave had us searching the endless green ocean for any signs of life. After waiting for about fifteen minutes our Nature Guide burst into life with the words we were waiting for… WHALES!

The two engines fired up once again and we began to bear down on the location and on the way we got to see a couple of Fiordland Crested Penguins, which as rare as they are we we looking for something a little bit bigger. At first there were two then after bobbing around for a couple of moments two turned into five, six, ten. In the end there were about twelve of the mammals that were nearly the size of the Navigator. I had to step aside for a few moments because the moment was one that I’ll admit brought a tear or two to my eyes. We sat and watched as the pod slowly swam by and even though it was getting late and dinner was waiting, we weren’t going anywhere.

The slow bobbing was entertaining enough however one particular whale wanted to up the ante by exploding out of the water and then crashing back down in an almighty splash. Both the crew and customers were letting out uncontrollable yahoos and cheers, and even the most unexcited were entertained.

Eventually the pod pushed on and we returned to the Fiord to have dinner and chat about the animals that are so big but rarely seen.

The next day was my final day on the boat before my trip to Nepal and I was still buzzing about seeing whales. Now it was time to go do some good to pay back the karma gods that had been so good to me!

Humpback Whale Breaching Near the Fiordland Coastline

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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