The Whale
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The pristine waters of Dominica, located in the West Indies between Martinique and Guadeloupe, are home to Sperm Whales, ocean giants as large as sixty feet in length. Unlike its legendary predecessor, Moby Dick, we were befriended by a gentle creature who romped and rolled and played as we swam with her in an intimate 30 minute encounter during our winter trip in December. 2002.

Few know this Caribbean paradise, off the usual tourist track, where the lack of crowds and commercialization create an unspoiled treat for the eco-traveler. No multi-storied, luxury hotels here, the largest have no more than forty rooms, and visitors revel in the intimacy of the quaint surroundings where nature hikes and bird watching are popular pastimes. The mountainous volcanic island is surrounded by magnificent coral reefs, making it a favored destination for the discriminating scuba diver looking for the unspoiled marine environment.

A few cruise shops visit each week, where the attraction is certainly not in Rosseau (pronounced Rose-o), the gritty capitol of this Commonwealth nation of 70,000. Nature offers the entertainment in this land of lush rain forests where magnificent poinsettias grow wild in huge bushes along roadsides. Whale watching is a popular attraction for visitors in large, comfortable boats provided by several aquatic centers.

A special offer to our group of experienced divers, instructors and underwater photographers was given by an operator needing underwater shots of whales for brochures and advertising, to let us do what is almost never allowed because of the dangers--enter the water with the world's largest animals. To us the thrill of taking such photos far exceeded any risk. We expected to remain some distance from these whales, getting only close enough for good view and clear image with our wide angle underwater lenses. Little did know how different reality would be from our expectations.

Adult Sperm Whales dive several thousand feet in search of squid, their favorite food. Their calves, twelve to fourteen feet long at birth, when too immature to dive with their parents remain at the surface during the adult's forty-five minute dives.

We encountered a two-year-old calf measuring more than twenty feet. When mother dove, to our delight, the calf became curious about the boat, rolling on her side and lifting her head from the water for a better view. Entering the water we found the calf as curious about us as we about her. She allowed us to approach, touch and pet her, seemingly enjoying the contact. She rolled over completely, apparently imitating our actions. A stroke her huge head near her eye, merely caused her to close it, taking no evasive action and opened it as the hand passed. She opened her huge mouth quite wide, allowing a view of her great maw and very sharp teeth, not as a threat but in a seeming gesture of satisfying curiosity. After half an hour we returned exhausted to the boat. She followed and circled the boat several times, almost begging us to return and play some more. Finally, mother returned from the depths the calf rejoined mom.