Each July hundreds of humpback whales migrate from the Antarctic northward to the comparatively warm, placid waters of the shallow bays on the east and west coasts of Madagascar, where they remain for the Southern Hemisphere winter to give birth and nurse their calves, before returning to the Antarctic in October. Our friends on Ovation reported seeing 25 whales as they rounded the northern tip of Madagascar last month. We've felt privileged to share this protected bay with just a few humpback mothers and their offspring.
When the whales come within sight of Mata'irea, we climb in the dinghy and idle over to them. Then we cut the engine and drift. The babies, which are about 12 feet long, spend a lot of time on the surface, rolling around, breathing, waving at us with their fins, and beholding us with their large, unblinking eyes. Every few minutes, their magnificent mothers resurface to breathe and nurse. Their breathing sounds like someone blowing into a huge hollow tube, something like an ethereal didgeridoo.
The experience of sitting in a 10 foot inflatable dinghy as a giant whale glides under you, is exactly like this:
"Eighteen feet of boat on open seas is in almost any circumstance a tenuous alignment. But to suddenly find yourself in that same small vessel above a fleet, 40-foot-long midsea mastodon — one whose fluke alone could, with a cursory flip, send you and your boat soaring skyward — is to know the pure, wonderfully edgeless fear of complete acquiescence. I watched, wide-eyed, the soundless slide of that "moving land," as Milton once described whales, everywhere beneath our boat, and suddenly felt the whole of myself wanting to go away with her; to hop on for a long ride downward toward some dimly remembered, primordial home." - Charles Siebert, Watching Whales Watching Us, The New York Times Magazine, July 8, 2009
Madagascar Margarita Madness