I am not a whale, nor am I a whale psychiatrist, but of one thing I am
certain, pilot whales like to bodysurf. How do I know this? It's
easy. While I was sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, I watched them bodysurf
in twelve foot seas. I am sure these mammoth mammals could have made
it through their day just fine without bodysurfing. But when given the
opportunity, they position themselves on the crests of the big waves, and
they go for an exhilarating ride. Dolphins do the same thing.
In December 2005 we sailed 2100 miles from the Cape Verde
Islands off the African coast to Barbados in the Caribbean taking sixteen
days to make the trip. On such a long passage a lot of water passes
under our keel, and we had an opportunity to get up close and personal with
whales and dolphins.
We were halfway across the Atlantic when we had the
privilege of sailing in company with a large pod of pilot whales. Just
before noon, Donna was on watch when she saw a large dark shadow resembling
a small submarine moving through the water next to Exit Only. She
wasn't sure what caused the shadow, and she called us on deck to take a
look. She had never previously seen pilot whales and wasn't familiar
with their characteristic appearance - the blunt rounded forehead and swept
back dorsal fin.
These pilot whales appeared to be about half as long as our boat as they
bodysurfed and swam alongside at warp speed. All four of us remained
transfixed on deck as we watched the pilot whale parade that lasted for half
an hour. We estimate that this pod contained at least forty whales.
The pilot whales were expert bodysurfers. They
rocketed down the faces of breaking seas - their torpedo like bodies
effortlessly rode the waves. Two energetic whales performed
spectacular jumps sending their entire bodies airborne, and then they hit
the water making a whale of a splash.
A few whales swam toward Exit Only at an oblique angle to
the hull diving under our yacht. They could have easily given our
catamaran a nudge or thump with their massive tails, but they didn't exhibit
any aggressive behavior toward our yacht. They weren't interested in
combat. They just wanted to frolic in the waves and put on a
bodysurfing and aerobatic show we will never forget.
Good on you pilot whales. You made our
transatlantic voyage into a real adventure.