SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 16, September 2016 - Page 129

‘bergs in the early summer, and deep-sea wreck dives that are a marine archaeology of the province’s seafaring past. Meredith and I, however, came dedicated to the whales, staying for a week in the OceanQuest lodge, eating in its communal kitchen, waiting each morning for the safe call to go out on the water. It’s a good idea to set aside several days for flexibility in case the weather is prohibitive.

Which the weather easily can be: make no mistake about it—these are Viking seas. The color of the water’s surface is mineral: a deep blue-green slate that has facets like shards of obsidian. When it’s churned by bubbles in a wake or a bubble ring, it is the color of Mylanta, a fact that I pointed out to Meredith which made her roll her eyes at me even though she knew exactly what I was talking about. Beneath the surface, you slip into yet another realm: dark, limitless turquoise, nutrient-dense with fairy-alien invertebrates that curlicue by you, motile by means of trilling frills of cilia. Once, I crossed my eyes as a sea butterfly the size of my pinky fingernail and as burning-bright as a neon Christmas bulb propelled itself past my mask.

And then there are the birds—even if you never got to see any whales, which you will—bridging the worlds of land, sea, and sky. The seabirds’ guano from their nests in the cliffs high above the crashing surf adds nutrients to the water, lacing the food web, and, like a science-book diagram of cyclicity. the birds then dive for the teeming life that is in part fed by them: gannets lancing into the waves, murres lofting and settling like swarms of flies, ungainly puffins duck-diving, resurfacing, and then charging across the water’s surface until they gather enough momentum for liftoff, then buzzing away.

We cheer whenever a puffin achieves liftoff—it’s easy to laugh at them with their stocky bodies and Froot Loop beaks, but then you remember how tough they truly are: they are at peace upon this hardcore geology, and on these swells; this very element that is threatening to buck you out of your boat is their home!

This wildness is also the summer home, deep in the turquoise, of the humpback whales. The whales bring their young to this cold-water zone to feed and rear their babies. When the season changes, they’ll migrate back to warm waters to mate and have more babies. Stanley holds that the colder climates are best places to dive with whales because they are not driven by the imperatives of reproduction or caring for newborns. “They’re more relaxed up here,” he says. “All they have to do is eat and socialize.” Even so, all the skippers are under strict policy instructions not to interfere with a whale who is feeding, and they all know the signs. We only approach the vicinity of whales who are at play, or lounging around on the surface.

“For a lot of people, when they see a whale underwater, it’s emotional,” divemaster & skipper John Olivero tells us in our safety briefing. I knew it would be, but there is the difference between somebody telling you something’s going to be a certain way and then actually feeling what it is like. The skipper maneuvers you close to where the whale is going to be, cues “Now!” and you pour over the side of the boat and swim towards the bow, your face in the chilly water. And there is the whale, big white wings moving slowly in the vastness.

The whales are peaceful; the feeling around them is one of quietness and awe. At one point we saw a mother whale cruising with her child. I knew my sister was close to me, somewhere near me in space, that we were seeing the same thing. When I came up, I had tears inside my mask. I was crying with pure love.

In case you feel nervous about being out in the open ocean, let me assure you that you are safe: you are wearing so much neoprene that you bob like a cork, and there is always a rescue swimmer, not to mention your skipper. Once when Meredith and I sat out a round to conserve our energy, we actually got to see our rescue swimmer Kyle do a headlong handspring off the bow into the water. It was such an over-the-top Errol Flynn move that we burst out laughing.

Riding on the side of the Zodiac, back to dock on that last day out, I’m cold inside my wetsuit. I’ve ridden my body to its utmost being in and out of the water for multiple hours with only a chia-seed cookie as lunch. I’m so tired I can barely think, and my face is slapped with cold, yet all of my cells are shouting with happiness, Thank you for letting us experience this. I’m traveling with my whole body, alive with every nerve.

It is at that moment dolphins erupt out of the water around us. The layer of grey clouds in the sky subdue the sun, so that there is a lambent glow all around, a soft radiance that glances off the wet, muscular flanks