Spotting Giants

March 17, 2014

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The cool, crisp spring air whips past your face as you eagerly peer into the deep ocean for signs of movement. The noisy chatter of birds overhead and the tour guide’s commentary are reduced to a murmur by your racing heart. With single minded focus, you hold out for the most exhilarating sight. Each still moment passing is a missed opportunity. Out of the corner of your eye you spot an unmistakeable clue that stills the air in your lungs – a plume of mist erupting from the sea. A pod of killer whales moves effortlessly through the water, breaking the surface to take breaths of air. These regal figures linger only for a few moments, and then continue on their long journey. You finally exhale your held breath, as you watch them chase the horizon. Within minutes they are gone, but the memory of the encounter will remain clear for a long while.

It’s hard not to succumb to the blessed feeling a whale sighting can provide. Although fleeting, these rare and moving moments are wished for by those from the Arctic to Antarctica. Although it has existed for millennia, the general public did not become privy to whale watching until the 1950s in San Diego, California. There, a viewpoint was opened, allowing visitors to admire majestic gray whales as they pass by on a 10,000 mile migration from Alaska to Baja California.

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Whale watching has since continued to grow in popularity around the world, inspiring millions and inviting further marine explorations. Its popularity can no doubt be credited to the awe-inducing and humbling presence of these gentle giants, each species unique and spectacular in its own right. Whether you encounter the barnacle-encrusted gray whale or the playfully elegant humpback whale, you will quickly be reminded of your scale in the world.

To this date, a handful of locations are renowned by enthusiasts for their frequency of sightings. Kaikoura, the breathtaking island off the east coast of New Zealand, is one of the few places in the world where sperm whales congregate. Hermanus, the southernmost tip of South Africa, has some of the world’s best shore-based whale watching areas. Each year, a summer festival is held to commemorate the spotting of great southern right whales. Glacier Bay in Alaska is one of the last remaining migratory feeding grounds for whales. Humpbacks and killer whales make their residence there during the summer. Baffin Island, Canada, is unrivalled in its uniqueness for housing one of the rarest whales in the world: the narwhal, aptly dubbed “the unicorn of the sea.” Spotting one is nearly as hard as spotting its nickname’s namesake.

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As creatures of habit, whales display high fidelity for their breeding grounds, revisiting the same sites again and again. They migrate thousands of miles each year, crossing national boundaries to retrace ancestral routes established centuries ago. As many can attest, catching a glimpse of these majestic mammals swimming as part of their journey is an unforgettable experience. With the arrival of spring, come new opportunities for you to see for yourself. Be prepared to feel small, but also, to feel a unique connection to nature that you won’t soon forget.

Photography: Kyler Vos

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Enjoyed ‘Spotting Giants’? Check back next Monday for the another instalment from The Journal, Issue Two. Or to find your own complimentary copy of The Journal, visit Herschel Supply stockists around the world.