Are whales as curious about us as we are of them?
Does the Dory whale call really work? I have led whale watching trips for over 20 years and in that time I have had killer whales come over and taste my engine I’ve had a giant blue whale, the largest animal on earth, come and look into our underwater viewing pods to see passengers inside, as seen in the video above. And just recently I had a group of kids from a kids camp making Dory whale calls and a humpback whale came over closer to our boat than I’ve ever had a humpback come . One of our crew, Craig DeWitt, had a go pro in the water on a pole and actually had to move it out of the way of the giants pectoral flippers as it rolled around next to one of our whale watching boats.
Do I think those two things are related; the whale call and the whale coming over, probably not, but who is to say. What if the Dory whale call worked …could I use it to get whales to come over to the boat and mug our passengers like this one did? The answer is no. We are not allowed to do anything that would change the normal behavior of the animal. The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, which is overall a great law, however when taken to it’s extreme, it prevents even simple things like clapping your hands to get a sea lion to look up at you so you can take a picture of it…that is harassment and is illegal. The idea is that if everyone was to do this it would be really annoying to these animals and potentially stress them out. Which is true. Is it illegal for a sea lion to clap his hands to get your attention, (which I have seen a sea lion do in a rehabilitation center in the hopes of getting a fish), or for example a whale to breach out of the water to get your attention? The answer, of course, is no! They can do whatever they like.
In the lagoons in Baja where gray whales go to mate and give birth, I’ve often had moms bring their calves over to be petted and once we even have had a calf open its mouth so we could reach in and rub it’s tongue and baleen. I’ll show you that sometime.
As part of a NOAA trained whale disentanglement team I have seen stressed out whales, entangled in fishing gear allow us to be towed by them, in order to work on them with poles and knives to remove the gear wrapped around them, often with very benign reactions even when accidentally cut… while other times they can respond violently. Which is why we have to be very careful.
I believe that when they are not hunted or run over by boats, whales and dolphins have a natural curiosity about us. I believe that eventually, if our laws will permit it, and if people are patient and let the whales initiate contact, it will become more and more normal for whales and humans to interact in positive ways as they do in the lagoons in Baja where they are protected and safe.
We’ve been seeing this phenomena of curious whales more and more in many areas where whale watching tours occur. However its like romance… you can’t make it happen, but you can create an environment that fosters it. And if it happens …you are blessed! Having this kind of whale human interaction is a beautiful yet fragile thing that requires patience and respect and who knows maybe a Dory whale call by 41 kids might even help …if it were legal. LOL!
Next week’s blog is about the recent blue whale disentanglement I was involved with. I will include never before seen footage taken from the rescue boat. Become a fan by clicking above. Talk to you then.
This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post, where Captain Dave was invited to be a weekly guest blogger.