It’s not often you get a chance to get so close to whales, dolphins or even seals in their natural habitats. Depending on where you live it could be the result of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or something completely unexpected.
For others it could be relatively common, something almost unnoticed. I posted a poem, “The Tholsel, Kilkenny”, here on that very topic, one person’s exotic being another’s normal.
This was my response to a painting by Paul Henry RHA of the ancient Toll House (Tholsel) in my native Kilkenny City, Ireland. The first time I saw this I was astonished that a sight as familiar to me as a wristwatch could be seen and painted in such a beautiful way by someone from elsewhere. The poem includes the couplet
“So my familiar seems exotic to you,
as my exotic is your familiar too”
Perhaps this is an uncommon call to be prepared for astonishment in a wonderful world.
Searching for ‘whale watching tours’ will direct you to various scattered locations such as Alaska, California, Boston, Hawaii. Perhaps other evocative names appeal to you? How about Madagascar, Newfoundland, Vancouver Madagascar? Ireland will be familiar to some, distant and imagined to others.
Walk down the street where I live and you will come to a busy fishing harbour. Trawlers come and go, fish are offloaded and truck heavily-laden pass through the village carrying the haul to the next destination. Two piers make up the harbour. The outer one is larger and is built in deeper water. The inner pier creates a small harbour generally used by the smaller craft, including charter boats.
‘The Rebecca C’ is a catamaran which is moored in our inner harbour when it is not at sea or berthed in similar ports along the coast. She has a yellow hull, white deck and cabin and is skippered by Martin Colfer. In season ‘The Rebecca C’ is chartered by angling groups who spend time at sea pursuing their passion.
There is another season in Martin’s work. He is also a leading light in the Whale Watching World. Nature enthusiasts, TV crews, photographers, both professional and amateur, pursue their prey with his help, out beyond the Hook Head Lighthouse.
January and February seem to be the best months to catch sight of the migrating whales. Travelling out towards likely viewing sites you can often pass through large pods of dolphins or be watched by curious seals
One trip in 2016 brought us through a pod of dolphins so large we gave up trying to count beyond a hundred. What was particularly touching that day was that they seemed to be clustered in family groups, trios mainly of mother, child and father. Playful animals that they are it is easy watch them race the boat, chase each other towards or sometimes simply showing off. We have even seen individual fish skimming along beside us, escaping from their pursuers.
Without a doubt the most memorable experience to date has been meeting a Humpback Whale in January 2017. We were so close not only could we hear her breathing but even see the droplets of water falling from her body, her flukes, as she disappeared into her other home in the depths below. Gone for now, out of sight, but lingering in our memory for a long time to come.