A meeting with the sperm whale !
Whale watching Cruise
The road of whales in Quebec
Humpback whales of Samana Bay
Sperm whales, killer whales and dolphins can be spotted just a few miles off the coast of the French island Guadeloupe. This morning we've come across a twelve metre long sperm whale. I slide into the water and swim towards him hoping he doesn't dive...
Text and photogaphy by Jean-François Vibert - Translation :
All of a sudden the huge dark shape appears fifty metres in front of me. My heart beat races and I run out of breath as I swim towards it. Underneath, a thousand metres of the purest blue sea make me feel as though I'm the size of an insect. Suddenly the cetacian changes direction and swims towards me. My efforts in the water become pointless.
Listen to the spermwhale
The video of the spermwhale
Lasts : 3 minutes
Size : 2,9 Mo
Needs Quicktime-4 plug in
Download here :

The voice of Renato Rinaldi, the whale specialist who first got me into this adventure rings in my ears : "Don't try and get close to the animal, he will come to you if it wants to". And that's exactly what happens:The twelve metres long young bull starts swiming towards me.
I can bearly comprehend what 's happening. I think I'm too close and start swiming backwards
After a few minutess I manage to control my breathing... and decide to go and see what he looks like from underneath.
Thirty metres, twenty metres, ten metres ,whales swim fast. My God, he's coming for me !
Suddenly he swims up, his jaw rotating round towards me. What's he going to do?
The huge bulk moves with effortless grace. Never the less he's fast, with one bearly detectable movement he goes much faster than me when I swim as hard as I can.
I don't know what to do. I stay still. He's swiming towards me. At last he stops. Only two small metres separate me from his thirty tone bulk. Anything could happen now. All of a sudden loud and powerful clicking noises ring in my ears, this I know to be his sonar system capable of reaching tens of kilometres away. Maybe he is saying hello in whale. I don't know how to answer back. I trigger the flash light on my under water camera, which makes three loud beeps.Luckily for me,and to my great relief, the most formidable preditor alive today doesn't seem to mind flash lights.
Listen to the spermwhale
It's very frustrating not to be able to use oxigen cylinders at such a time...
Only the front part of the animal (the dorsal hump) is visable on the surface.
I'm not scared but my legs feel weak. The evening before I read that, although we know whales usually feed on giant skquids they hunt up to a thousand metres down, once, a two metres long shark was found whole in the stomack of one of these creatures. Come on now ! As long as you don't annoy them , whales won't attack divers. We are no longer in the days when whales sold their lives dearly because hunted, sending their aggressors down to Davy jones' locker. I can't help thinking about one of my childhood books, the cover of which represented a bashed up whaling boat destroyed by a famous white sperm whale ; Moby Dick .
The principle is to move around untill you get the best echo with the hydrophone. Then you wait for the whale to surface and spurt.
When I dive tens of metres down to take a picture of him from underneath...he decides to follow me!...I come up out of breath...and he surfaces too, probably a little frustrated not to have had the chance to show me his home !
"Carefull Jeff , you're too near, get back ! "Over on the speed boat, Rénato is waving, I remember his safety instructions. "If he blows bubbles or opens his jaw it means he's angry, in which case get back to the boat quick because we don't know how he might react ".That 's why people don't dive with cylinders when they want to get near whales, whales hate bubbles, it's probably a sign of agression for them. "They can also have their crazy moments," he explaned. "Once a huge bull wanted to put his head on the back of my boat. Forty tonnes worth of whale. I very nearly capsized."
Mobydick swiming on his stomach...or on his back! Inableing us to see all the length of his jaw. nage sur le ventre... ou sur le dos !
A classic whale attitude : They stick their heads out of the water virtically so they can see what's going on !
I swim away from him, I have to, he dosen't fit in the frame. No bubbles, no jaw movements, everything seems fine...He's got his eye on me. I try to swim round him, he turns his head to face me. I take a deep breath and dive ten metres down to take a picture from underneath. Surprise: he too sinks down, as if he had decided to acompany me to the abyss to hunt giant skquid !
Whales have only one vent to breath from which is situated on the left of their heads.
From a couple of metres away I can feel the air spurting out of his vent : a very fishy smell !
Amazing: he is circling me. He dives, swims on his back underneath me creating a noticeable swirl. Looking down just below my flippers I see his two metre long jaw, then his belly swims past, I then find myself starring at his gigantic fin, one whip of which, could kill me instantly. I take another deep breath and the underwater ballet continues. Looking confident, the whale swims nearer and nearer. Suddenly I hear Renato, obviously nervous, starting up the engine. I feel quite safe, dare I say: in harmony with my new found friend.
Seen from underneath the sperm whale with it's enormous square head resembles a nuclear submarine.
A farewell flick of his tail before diving. He will surface again in 40 minutes.
Because my camera has run out of film I swim to the boat to reload. Renato helps me on board. To my great surprise he tells me I've been in the water for twenty seven minutes. What I've just been through hits me and I suddenly feel exhausted and have great dificulty reloading my camera. All the while my new found friend is swiming out to sea, alerted, maybe, by the song of a mate. He seems to have decided to leave us, and there is little point in trying to follow him. Before diving he gives us a final flick of his tail as a fearwell present.
This looks like the remains of a Sperm whale's diner : a sample of skquid found floating at the surface of the ocean.
Renato Rinaldi uses a hydrophone to listen to and tape the whale's song.

Whasa sperm whale ?

A Sperm whale is a mammal in other words a cetacean. Cetaceans are classified as two distinct types : Odontoceteas which have teeth (sperm whales, belugas, killer whales, dolphins, porpoise) and mysticete whales which are equiped with whalebone to filter plankton and small fish.
Bulls can weigh up to 57 tonnes and measure up to 18 metres in length. They have 18 to 25 teeth, can dive for 45 minutes and in between dives can rest at the surface for a few minutes up to an hour. They hold the world record for deep sea diving : scientists have registered whales at depths of 2250 m ! They can be found in all the seas around the world and are no longer in danger of extinction as whaling was made illeagal in1982.
Whales find each other and comunicate thanks to their sonar system : A loud powerfull clicking sound on a wide range of frequencies. It is only by using hydrophones that we are able to detect and approach whales. All we have to do then is wait for them to surface to breath and look out for their spurts which are sometimes visible from great distances.
Listen to the spermwhale

The clash of the titans in the abyss
The photo on the left shows the impressive jaw of a sperm whale on which was found the caracteristic traces of a giant squids giant tenticles. The estimated length of the cephalopod given the diametre of it's suction pads is 25 metres. Having said that, the whale's jaw isn't exactly small !
On the right an authentic specimen of an Achiteuthis of average size but in perfect condition.
Photo credit : unknown
Sperm whales eats giant squeeds !
And why do whales dive so deep ? To feed on their favourite food, giant squid (Architeuthis Dux). Traces of giant tenticles have been found on some Sperm Whales which have led some scientists to believe that some specimens living in the abyss can be tens of meters in length.
Whalers would often find bits of tentacles several metres long in the stomachs of their catch. Few scientists, though, are sure about the existence of giant skquids because it's so rare to find one in good condition. There are, neverthless, many clues that would suggest they do exist although generally all we see of them are shapeless heaps of washed up flesh on beaches after storms (like the monster of Florida photographed in 1897).
Divers should be reasured, for they havn't a chance of ever coming face to face with one of these monsters because of the deepth in which they live. Down 1000 or 2000 metres, the abyss is as dark as can be, temperatures are just above"0"and the pressure is collossal, (this might explain why they are so rarely washed up on shore : their invertibrated bodies don't stand up to the change in pressure when they surface). Visit here the site of an American expidition which tried (but failed) to film Architeuthis in 1999.
I've also collected on this page links on giant skquids and some amazing photos found on the net.

You can go whale watching in Guadeloupe
You can watch Sperm whales, hunchbacks, dolphins 5to 10 miles out between november and may on board the Catadive, globicéphale tropical, dauphin tacheté pantropical ou orque naine.
Renato in his home near Bouillante. Built in the forest his whole house is dedecated to his passion for cetacean.
In the photo on the right he is holding the skull of a small killer whale and on the left the skull of a dolphin.
Organisations that protect whales have granted a charter that stipulates how vessels should approach the animals so as not to bother them. In this maner people can watch the whales from a distence of about twenty metres. Obviously it is forbidden to get into the water (scientists and proffesional photogaphers are the only ones allowed to do that).
With the aid of a hydrophone and various teaching aids, you will be able to listen to the song and clicking of the whales. A half day out whale watching costs 120 to 240 f .

Centre de plongée Les heures saines ­ Réserve Cousteau
Le Rocher de Malendure ­ Pigeon. 97132 Bouillante ­ Guadeloupe
Tél. 0590.98.86.63 ­ Fax. 0590.98.77.76 - -
Infos voyage : Ultramarina (voyagiste plongée)
Gérard Carnot - 37, rue Saint Léonard ­ BP 33221 44032 Nantes cedex 1
Tél. Fax. - -
Between november and may, the chances of spoting cetacean on a three hour outing are 90%.
Engines off as the camarers fire away when a nosy killer whale approaches the Catadive.
Playing on the wave of the stem, the dolphins accompany the Catadive.

To help the study, cencous and protection of the turtles and cetacean of Guadeloupe :
As well as making a censous of the whale population, the organization sets up night watches on the beaches where turtles go to mate. They lend tents, lamps, sleeping bags and various equipment... if your lucky enough you might even get to witness one of these living dinosaurs lay an eg.
Renato Rinaldi - Association évasion tropicale.
Courbaril 97125 Bouillante. Guadeloupe FWI
Tél. 0590.57.19.44. Fax. 0590.98.77.76. -

Humpback whales (jubartes) in Samana Dominican Republic
En République Dominicaine, la Baie de Samana est le rendez-vous annuel des baleines à bosse. Chaque hiver entre janvier et mars, quelques 1000 à 2000 individus se retrouvent dans ces eaux chaudes pour mettre au monde les balaineaux, rechercher un compagnon, exécuter une spectaculaire parade nuptiale et s'accoupler... Avant de repartir pour une longue migration vers les mers froides de l'émisphère nord, elles offrent aux amateurs de"whale watching" un spectacle unique au monde !
Whale watching Cruise
The road of whales in Quebec
Humpback whales of Samana Bay

Dive in the Cousteau Nature Reserve
Learn to dive or explore the beautifully preserved underwater sanctuary around the Pigeon Isl
ands in the enchanting Cousteau reserve... without forgeting the impressive wreck of the Franjack, now home to a multicolored fauna... Turtles, perrot fish, barracudas, groupers...
(click here to see the reportage)
Spermwhale dolphins whale whale watching,whale-watching whalewatching guadeloupe pics

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© Jean François VIBERT - Journalist and photographer - Paris -
Specialised in travels, extrems sports, leisure activities, adventure trips, outdoor sports, deserts and mountains... Trekking, ski, snowboard, mountain, bike, sailing, scuba diving, hiking, in line skating... Texts and pictures for the press and the web, illustration, digital photography, reportages...
Journaliste photographe - Spécialiste des voyages, des sports de glisse, des loisirs, de l'aventure, de l'outdoor, des déserts, des montagnes. VTT, trekking, ski, snowboard, parapente, voile, plongée sous marine, randonnées, roller in line... Textes et photos pour la presse et internet, illustrations, photographie numérique, reportages...