I have been in the water for fifteen minutes. The water is thirty-five metres deep and clear. It is now silent and shafts of sunlight meet at a point beneath me in the blue void. I feel surprisingly relaxed. Out of the stillness, a shoal of five large and energetic remoras swim directly to me as if they are lieutenants preparing a visit for their eminent host. They spin around heading back towards the whale, which again rises to the surface now only a hundred metres away.

humpback-whale-off-cape-kimberleyLooking through my mask above the surface, I can clearly see a ridge on his rostrum directly in line with the blowhole and dorsal fin. He is now perfectly aligned facing me and moving forwards slowly, but not yet visible underwater. He moves closer until at the edge of my underwater visibility (I estimate about sixty-five feet), I first see the huge white flippers glowing white and the outline of his head. There is a sense of calm. I have a feeling of pure wonderment.
He is five hundred times my size and has enough power to raise his forty tons clear of the water. His sophisticated brain has formed a clear impression of me and my internal organs. I only have my eyes to rely on. I can see just 45 feet with clarity and a basic outline at 65 feet, beyond nothing. I am in his world. He is the master. His is a world of perception through sound and electromagnetism that passes unseen through my body: In both respects, I am illiterate.

With spectacular ease, he glides down and takes up a position head down at an angle of forty five degrees from the surface. The posterior tips of his flukes just eight metres from the surface and now directly below me. There he lies absolutely motionless; not a movement. There is a sense of perfect balance and symmetry. Whilst he holds this position with precision and ease, I am adrift.

I remain in wonder at the grandeur of this magnificent humpback whale. His world and experiences are so different from mine. Our lives seem worlds apart, yet we are very close. We are both mammals and depend on our mothers care and milk at birth. We are intelligent. We breathe the same air. We have social and family ties. We have a comparable lifespan. We have much to learn about each other and from each other.

humpback-whale-close-approachI, not he, am the representative of greatest danger: A member of the species that has nearly brought his to extinction: Justified by putting oil in our lamps and meat on our plates. He has good reason to be aggressive and disgusted. He will have heard the painful cries of harpooned whales echoing around the ocean depths. Still he chooses to satisfy his curiosity by approaching me gently and with no malice.

I am humbled.