During a sunset hike above Darwin Lake, looking out across the channel towards Fernandina on the fourth day of our cruise, one of our group spotted the distant spray from a passing whale. The kind of small distant “pffft” that makes you look sideways and ask, did I see that?
The next day we passed directly through this channel on our way from Isabela to Fernandina. About 2/3 of the way across the captain led the ship in a quick 180-degree turn and started heading back towards where we had come, calling out on the yet-unused loudspeakers, “whale…. whale…”
The naturalist guide quickly came up on deck, as did everyone else. And I mean everyone else. The cook, who we had only seen once on the cruise so far, came out with his camera phone. The chief engineer, whom we saw only four times total on the entire eight day cruise, was standing at the railing taking photos. The two panga drivers took off running to the back of the boat with our naturalist guide, giddy as schoolkids that were released early for recess. It’s easy to imagine the crew of this boat becoming numb to all the sea turtles, sea lions, birds, fish, and all-around amazing wildlife that surrounds them everyday. So we knew something special was going on when the entire crew abandoned their posts momentarily to enjoy the moment.
The whale was surfacing time and again a few hundred feet off the bow of the boat. A massive creature that defied our understanding of size. Seemingly blue, with faint swaths of white on its side and back.
Next thing we see is our Go-Pro-wielding naturalist guide, standing at the front of a zodiac, being driven at top speed until they are 20 meters in front of the whale’s path, then diving in! He attempted this a couple times, and those of us on the boat were at a bit of a loss for what he was doing. But seeing him later, earnestly attempting to send the Go-Pro video to his naturalist buddies on other boats, and eventually to the national park itself, it became clear this was not a normal resident that had graced us with its presence. Our geeked-out naturalist guide was trying to figure out what species it was! (This may have been the moment my biology-teacher wife fell ever-so-slightly in love with this geeked-out naturalist guide that happens to look ever-so-slightly like soccer star Ronaldo…)
The Go-Pro video was never conclusive, but by combining a little bit of what everyone saw from the ship, we’re fairly certain this had to be either a large Bryde’s Whale, or a mid-sized Blue Whale.