Apologies for the pun. Couldn’t resist it.
I’ve clearly been influenced by the tabloids:
I still can’t quite believe my luck with this staggering encounter. This was my seventh trip of the year around Mount’s Bay from Penzance. The inner bay (inside a line from St.Michaels Mount to Mousehole) is relatively sheltered and tidal flows are weak. Further along the coast towards Gwennap Head the tidal rate increases, with a potentially fizzy area off Tater Du lighthouse where currents converge and there is an underwater ridge.
Swirling currents mean fish which in turn mean dolphins (and whales) but if there is any wind at all it is not at all great for offshore kayaking because the sea chops up dramatically. So I am very wary off paddling miles out to sea in this particular location.
So it was incredibly fortunate that on this remarkable day there was no wind at all and the sea was essentially smooth…just a small swell rolling through.
The timing of my arrival was sheer luck as well. I had paddled fourteen miles out from Penzance in a big offshore loop and had been going for five hours. I heard the whale blowing about at least half an hour before I saw it and I think it had only just arrived in the area. I watched it for well over an hour and I left it working its way west towards Land’s End, where it was seen later in the day.
So it was only there for a couple of hours, just when I happened to roll up.
I’ve actually been focused on looking for whales from my kayak for over five years. This means heading far from the shore and I have clocked up about five hundred miles of offshore paddling (more than a mile from the coast) for each of the last four years.
I am very fortunate in having the time and living in a location to be able to do this, because days suitable for offshore kayaking (unless you are a hard-core type) are few and far between.
I only venture out if the wind is less than five mph all day. In SW England this is unusual. A wind any stronger than this makes the kayak bounce around and photography becomes even more challenging, and as soon as there are any splashy waves the chances of seeing a fin diminishes and the chances of hearing a cetacean breathing also goes down. And its just not so much fun.
Photography from a kayak with a camera that is not waterproof is tricky at the best of times. It lives in a dry bag behind my seat and is promoted to my lap when action is imminent.
The next few weeks are ‘out’ as far as offshore kayaking is concerned, because the wind is going to be too strong. Just look at the forecast for today, for instance:
Before this big encounter I have had ten whale sightings in Devon and Cornwall. Mostly fleeting glimpses of a passing Minke Whale, frequently only one blow and it is gone. This video is fairly typical (including the slate grey sea)
Also a very dramatic sighting of a large whale, thought to be an incredibly rare Sei Whale, lunge fishing near the Eddystone lighthouse, three years ago.
My only previous encounter with a Humpback was Horace (aka Doris) off South Devon in 2017. This photo looks great but when you consider that Horace was tangled up in a lobster pot line and so going nowhere, it’s not so good.
Fortunately he/she was released successfully by the BDMLR team.
I have been so keen to improve my whale-from-kayak chances, I have ventured on trips to Greenland…..
and the world’s greatest ocean-aquarium, the Sea of Cortez in Mexico….
Fantastic experiences both, a few glimpses of distant whales, but the search for that magical encounter continued…..
I still can’t quite believe that the sort of sight that I had specifically gone to both Greenland and Mexico to see, happened right here on my doorstep. It’s all the more personally satisfying for me that I came upon the Humpback completely unexpectedly, completely randomly, completely unguided, and powered only by my own grunt. I have always been a huge supporter of observing and celebrating the natural history on your home patch, even though it might be harder to find, and require more effort (and enduring some dubious weather) than hopping on a plane to where the wildlife might be handed to you on a plate (so to speak).
I’ve also always quite liked doing stuff where the end result is extremely unlikely to happen and only comes about by putting in huge amounts of hours of trying. I think I am the only individual daft enough to go looking for whales from a kayak in England.
So here we are….everybody’s favourite species of whale putting in a spectacular show of lunge-feeding, fin-slapping and raising the tail flukes (but no singing….as far as I could hear, above my pounding heart).
Played out on a calm blue sea under a cloudless blue sky with a backdrop of the stunning Cornish coast. How good is that?
Everybody loves a Humpback…this next video has had well over one million views. That’s more than Happy Talk (singalong version) by Captain Sensible on Youtube. Sorry, Capt.
Just seeing this next image is exciting enough for me. It was all I was ever hoping to see. Six views so far. All by myself.
I might struggle to match the excitement of this astonishing sight in subsequent blog posts, but if I can convey the enjoyment of slicing through the water completely silently and unobtrusively, whether it is far offshore or miles inland up a creek, observing and enjoying the huge variety of wild creatures that inhabit the southwest of England, then all is good.
It is great to welcome a whole load of new readers on board.