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whelfie

Who says whales don’t have legs?

whelfie

It’s been almost a year since “I missed it.”

It was a beautiful day in the middle of last July when a group of us decided to head out on the water in search of whales.

The humpbacks had returned to Newfoundland from the Dominican Republic to feed and fatten up at the capelin buffet before heading back south for the winter, and the waters were teeming with them. My social media feeds were full of beautiful whale tail shots and breaches. While the odds were in our favour of seeing some ourselves, I wasn’t about to hold my breath.

I was a whale repellant, after all.

I’d lost count of how many times I’d gone whale watching over the years, only to see none. Actually, that’s a lie. I’d managed to have one humpback encounter. That’s right, one. But he hadn’t come handy; he chose to stay clear of us and spent an hour playing with another tour boat, popping up to look at passengers leaning over the side before swimming underneath the catamaran to do the same on the other side. We had to settle for watching from a distance. Good times.

Now, if friends or family went out in the boat without me? Oh, they’d see more whales than you could count. And it seemed every one had a story of watching whales off Cape Spear. Except, of course, yours truly.

Song sung blue

I’d even heard humpbacks underwater while diving in Hawaii a few years earlier, but hadn’t laid eyes on one. Their voice travels when they sing, so they may not have been as close as they sounded, but even if they were, sharing a tune wasn’t in the cards.

When friends came to Newfoundland from Grand Rapids in 2013 specifically to see whales, I deliberately didn’t go out on the whale watching tour with them.

“You don’t want me on your boat,” I told them.

So that’s where things stood last July as we set out under the bluest of skies from Bay Bulls with O’Briens Boat Tours.

Capt. Joe announced that there was a free Iceberg Beer to be had for whoever spotted the first whale spout. I was already scanning the horizon and soon enough eyed the distinct spray at 11 o’clock.

“There she blows,” I hollered.

whalebeer

It’s hard to beat beer in a blue bottle made from 25,000 year old iceberg water.

Beer in hand, this trip was already shaping up to be better than most.

We weren’t long out of the harbour when we found ourselves alongside three humpbacks feeding at the surface. I was mesmerized, in awe and moved all at once. These gentle giants were unfazed by us being there. They were mellow and kept coming closer, surfacing next to the boat and swimming under it, their white pectoral fins turning the water a beautiful turquoise as they went.

11 o’clock, 2 o’clock, soon we were surrounded by clusters of feeding humpbacks. There was even a momma and a calf. Leaning over the side of the lower deck, I talked away to them, hoping to have the chance to make eye contact. Joe said they respond to the cheers and singing, so we made noise every time they dove and showed us their beautiful flukes.

WhaleTail

Majestic whale tail

We floated in place a long time and eventually had to carry on with the tour. Most of our finned friends had dove beneath the surface and after a few minutes of waiting for them to reappear, the captain revved the engine as we set out for the bird sanctuary on Gull Island.

And with that, it happened.

Two humpbacks burst from the water and breached over my shoulder while I had my back turned.

My friend Sue Bailey had just switched on her camera to capture some video for a travel story a moment before and I was about to give her some of the live-on-location foolishness that often documents our globetrotting jaunts when the boat erupted. I quickly looked around and caught the two whales on their way down.

“Oh my god. Oh my god. And I missed it,” I cried.

But really, I hadn’t. When we looked at Sue’s video, it was all there. We couldn’t believe it! The camera didn’t playback with sound, so I was worried what kind of f-bombs I might have dropped in the madness of the moment, as the video was being shot for Canadian Press. As it turns out, there were none. Another wonder!

A moment later, a third whale breached.

whaledance.sized2

Mike Wert’s beauty shot of the third breacher

To say we were giddy with glee would be an understatement.

Back on shore, Sue sent the video off to her editor and before long I had a tweet from a friend telling me the story was on the Globe and Mail’s website. Then another saying it was on Yahoo.ca. The next day it was on Canada AM and then the National. From there it took off. Sue was interviewed by CBC News and VOCM in St. John’s. Our whales were all over local and national television and radio. Online, they were front page on the Huffington Post Canada. Friends around the world messaged me to tell me where they’d seen the video. We even made the CBS Nightly News. This went on for some time. Even this past winter word is the double breach was the topic of conversation in a Dublin pub.

Better than the Banff Squirrel?

One fine chap on Twitter said our #whelfie was an even better photobomb than the Banff Squirrel. Those are big words considering how cute he is.

Now, the whales are making the social media rounds once again. Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism has dubbed this Whale Week and has produced a wonderful video of Joe telling the story of our #whelfie.

It’s one of five beautiful whale tales that’s being shared, as of course is Sue’s viral video.

Who says whales don’t have legs?

I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it, but every time someone tags me in a post about it or tweets about it, I have another look and laugh. It just never gets old.

That ‘helllllooooooo’ makes me howl. Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism posted this unedited version with more colourful language that captures the ruckus on board after the breach, with everyone sputtering a mile a minute all at once. Gold.

There’s rarely a dull moment when Sue and I get together, and while we’ve long joked about our spaziness, having it go viral took the cake.

In journalism, there’s an old adage: Report the news. Don’t become the news. We kind of blew that out of the water this time around.

But given that it captured the end of my whale repelling days with the biggest of splashes, I’m okay with that.

happywhalecampers

A giddy crew back on dry land

SylviaEarle

A bucket list kind of day

Although I’ve often joked about how my life has gone in unexpected directions as a result of bad timing, this week timing was on my side. I bounce around a bit these days, but realized about a month ago I was going to be in Ottawa the same time as Dr. Sylvia Earle. She doesn’t make many appearance in Canada, so I wasn’t about to miss her.

This is a woman I’ve admired for many years. A true living legend, she’s a trailblazer who’s devoted her life to exploring and researching the ocean.

She’s Time Magazine’s first Hero for the Planet, a National Geographic Explorer in Residence and founder of Mission Blue.

Seriously, take a look at her bio. There are enough honours and accomplishments for two or three people.

7,000 hours underwater

Having spent more than 7,000 hours underwater, Dr. Earle’s in a better position than most to talk about the impact we’re having on the ocean. She’s been a witness to it. At 78, she’s been diving for more than 50 years (and still does) and says she’s alarmed by the changes she’s seen beneath the surface in such a short time.

She’s worried by what we’re doing to the very liquid that allows every one of us to breathe. When speaking about the blue heart of the planet, she makes no bones about the urgency in needing to act to help it. But what I love about her is that the message she brings is one of hope. Although technology has helped us do incredible harm at an unprecedented rate, it’s also given us the ability to explore, to measure and to document the damage that’s being done. If we didn’t know, we couldn’t act. But we do, so we should.

“If you like to breathe, now is the time to listen.”

As soon as she said it, I knew I had the lead for my story.

I had the chance to spend more than half an hour interviewing ‘Her Deepness’ on Monday and despite sitting at the table with ocean royalty, managed to keep it professional…until it was time to go. Knowing I’d kick myself if I didn’t snag a photo, she graciously agreed to have one taken.

Force of Nature

Dr. Earle has a calm, serene presence about her. She’s a sweet lady and were her profile not what it is, she could easily be mistaken for your grandmother. But despite the diminutive package it comes in, you know you’re in the company of a force of nature. I confessed I was a longtime admirer as I packed up to leave. Walking out, we chatted about Newfoundland’s cod and how everyone should scuba dive to have a glimpse into this other world.

Or, she said, at least set foot on a water taxi or submarine.

As I stepped on the elevator, she winked and waved.

sylviaearletalk

Apologies for another sharp & stellar iPhone shot.

Later that night, at an event organized by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, she spoke to a sold-out crowd at the National Gallery. It was wonderful to see a full house; so many people who share a passion for the ocean, despite the fact we were in Ottawa, miles and miles from a coast line. But of course, that’s just her point.

As she wrote in The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One: “Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume. Everyone, everywhere is inextricably connected to and utterly dependent upon the existence of the sea.”

Sitting in the front row as she spoke, so eloquently and passionately about a place I love as well, I couldn’t help but be awed. And moved. And inspired.

It was definitely a bucket list kind of day. Those don’t come around often enough.

***

Dr. Earle’s documentary Mission Blue is on Netflix and worth taking the time to watch.

And if you haven’t seen her award-winning TED talk, I’ve plopped it here for you. It’s 18 minutes well-spent.

 

 

 

 

 

DivingIn

Diving In!

DivingIn
Not the St. Lawrence River….

 

I’ve been meaning to start this blog for a long time.

Years.

It’s been a new year’s resolution more than once, been on numerous to-do lists, but yet it never happened. Life, travel…and plenty of writing for magazines, websites and other people’s blogs….it all conspired to keep this beast on the back burner.

One thing I know for sure about myself is that after living my professional life on a deadline, if something doesn’t actually have one, it will inevitably get bumped down the to-do list by things that do.

But here we are…diving in. April Fool’s Day seemed like as good a time as any!

It’s sink or swim time, baby

Which is why it’s probably a good thing I’m buoyant!

I love travel, diving and the ocean, but I know it’s not for everyone. For a lot of people, the ocean is a big blue unknown — and they’re scared of what might be lurking beneath the surface.

Fair enough. I was that person at one time. Jaws did a real number on me as a wee whipper snapper and it was really only once I started diving that I got past that. Actually, it was my first foray into snorkelling that got the proverbial ball rolling. While it wasn’t entirely uneventful — few things are when I’m involved — I survived and walked away determined to give diving a go, barracudas and sunburned bum be damned!

Which is a tale for another day….

WhaleTail

Howdy from a humpie…

 

But I’m so happy to have had that introduction. What I quickly realized as a diver is that there’s a whole other world down there and very little of it is scary. Beautiful and magical are better ways to describe it.

Through stories, I hope this blog can take you there.

Fifty shades of blue

Why? Well, for one, I happen to think there’s no place like it.

But more importantly, we’re not being very kind to the ocean and that’s not only hurting the incredible creatures that call it home, it’s hurting us. Every breath we take is thanks to the ocean. We owe it more than it’s getting from us right now. It’s big, but it’s certainly not immune to the damage humans are doling out.

By telling some of the endless stories big blue has to share, I hope I can play a small part in encouraging people to care about it. After all, as Jacques Cousteau wisely noted,“people protect what they love.”

And goodness knows an ocean can never have too many lovers.

That said, while this is a blog with a heavy blue, ocean-inspired slant, I know very well that incredible experiences happen on dry land too.

I’m all about new experiences so they’ll land here too on occasion.

Bear with me for the first bit. I’m finding it’s much easier to write blogs for other people, so it might take a few posts before I get my sea legs, but by all means, let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading!