There be Whale Out There [44]

By Tony Niederberger

This is a story about four kayakers who just wanted to spend a day out there on the ocean, alone, and away from the big city, all its people and the over curious and over zealous kayak observers.

But even out there they discovered that the ocean is no longer the place to get away from it all.

After a quiet, lonesome and enjoyable paddle from Wattamolla to South Erie beach, the return journey was marred by over curious and over zealous kayak observers.

Yes, two whales – they just couldn’t leave the poor kayakers alone… what is the ocean coming to!

From at least 400 metres the whales spotted them, the kayakers thought they were safe and hadn’t been spotted because the whales were north east of them and heading north.

Three of the kayakers stopped, hoping to allow the whales to get more distance between them thus avoiding being spotted. The fourth had cunningly stayed closer to shore, about 400 metres away from the other, and thus was less obvious.

But no! The wonderful solitude would last no longer. No sooner had the three kayakers stopped and the whales just had to zoom in and disturb them. They turned and headed southwest, straight toward the kayakers.

Within minutes the whales had breached the 100 metre kayak exclusion viewing zone and were swimming around and under the three kayakers.

The kayakers protested of course but the whales persisted, coming within 5 metres of the kayaks at times (the National Parks & Wild Life Service would be receiving an official complaint). These huge whales, believed to be humpback whales, just would not leave the poor kayakers alone.

Of course the fourth kayaker was signalled by the other three to stay near the shore and avoid the intrusive spectators.

Sadly the fourth kayaker mistakenly read the signals of waving paddles and decided to rejoin her friends.

By the time she was 200 metres from the other kayakers it was too late. One of the whales had spotted her and, as whales do, one of them, the biggest one, just had to swim over and disturb her. None of the kayakers escaped the intrusion.

At 200 metres the lone kayaker was still unaware of what was to unfold. The other three knew what plight lay before her and were not at all surprised when the whale surfaced only metres from the lone kayaker, a loud disgruntled cry was heard of “Jesus Christ!”

There was a sudden burst of paddling as the lone paddler accelerated to join her friends (protests in numbers are usually more successful).

The four kayakers were then subjected to at least 30 more minutes of whales watching. In front of them, behind them, either side of them and underneath them (but thank God not above them). Each of the four were examined. It was just so impolite; it felt like we were some kind of a freak show.

All this time, south of the area, a storm was brewing and gradually approaching the kayakers. Eventually the storm was spotted and the kayakers decided to make a run for it. Even then the whales wouldn’t leave them alone, and swam between them for a while whilst the kayakers tried to escape the whales and beat the storm.

Eventually, thank God, the whales got bored and lost interest, leaving the kayakers to themselves again, but the storm was still approaching. With kilometres still to paddle and no landing spot until the end, the kayakers paddled north into a head wind, but the storm was also heading north, and soon the sound of thunder could be heard, with lightening flashes observed out the corner of their eyes.

The paddle pace increased, but still the storm got closer. Then the headwind stopped allowing the speed of the kayakers to increase, but it was a short reprieve. Soon the wind was a tail wind and white caps were approaching. Faster, faster, was the common thought of the kayakers.

On the shore up on the cliffs people could be seen looking down at the stricken kayakers and behind them at the rapidly approaching storm clouds. More lightning, more thunder.

Suddenly the sea got choppy, confused by the sudden change of wind and the rebound off the nearby cliffs. Faster, faster, they thought.

Then without warning, and with at least two kilometres still to paddle, the storm moved further out to sea and away from the kayakers (maybe there is a Kayakers God).

With the sea conditions still worsening and fearing that the storm might turn back onto them, the pace was maintained, but the kayakers were more relaxed now, and soon they were all safely back on land.

Several people were on the beach and so it was important not to say anything about the whales, the last thing these solitude seeking sea kayakers wanted was to be mobbed by more over curious and over zealous kayak observers.

The truth is, the kayakers had a great day and as for the whales, well, I’ll leave it up to you to imagine how we really felt.

Sharon, Robert, Dennis and Tony left Wattamolla beach at around 11:00 am and paddled south to South Erie Beach. After a lunch break they went a little further south to Burning Palms then headed back. The whales were spotted on the way back just north of Gerrie Beach about 1 km offshore. And yes, we never approached the whales, they were heading north when first spotted, then they turned and come over to see us.

This is one experience I’ll never forget.