Tonight I gave the first part of my two-gig presentation. After all, that is why I am here. I was just showing the Part 4 of my Atlantic video, the triumphant arrival in Antigua, when a member of the professional staff came over and whispered in my ear, “There are killer whales outside. We might have to leave the Q&A till another time”.
I spent the remaining 2 minutes of the video in agony. Forget the presentation, I wanted to be out there seeing the whales!
The moment the video was over, we made the announcement, and I high-tailed it out of the lounge along with (or even ahead of) everybody else.
It turned out that these were not just any old killer whales. These were the “Type A”s – not meaning that they were ultra-competitive and driven, but rather than out of the 3 general types of killer whales identified by scientists, this relatively rare type are larger (around 10 metres, or 30 feet) and prey on large mammals.
While we all piled out on deck to take photos, the onboard scientists launched a Zodiac and set out in hot pursuit to try and take a tissue sample using a harpoon gun. This involves shooting from a distance of around 10 metres – not too far, not too close – a dart that would extract a small and painless sample from the thick whale hide, allowing them to find out all kinds of information about that whale – its gender, diet, and even whether it was pregnant or not.
From our vantage point high on the Explorer, we could see the merry chase that the whales were leading the scientists. From their low vantage point, bouncing around on the waves, they couldn’t see so easily where the whales might next surface, or when the whales were behind them.
Standing on deck, we were shouting, “it’s behind you!” like the audience in a pantomime…. but to no avail. They returned empty-handed. The joy and frustration of scientific field work.
In the course of well over 100 presentations, in over a dozen countries, I had never before been upstaged by a bunch of killer whales. But that’s okay. I can speak anytime. Killer whales – well, there’s something you don’t see every day.