Quick! Quick! She’s coming up again! – I leant over the side once more, reaching as deep as I dare. Just below my hand – rising slowly from shadowy suggestion into high-definition reality – was the head of a baby grey whale. The twin blowhole slits pucker as the animal prepares to exhale. Surely this time…
Pfff! The sea exploded in my face and suddenly I was touching rubbery flesh. The nose nudged the gunwale, prompting half a dozen hands to reach out in a frenzy of patting and scratching, as though this 16ft infant sea mammal was a long-lost family labrador.
Laying hands on a wild whale is, undeniably, a powerful experience. And the flood of emotion rather drowns the words of our skipper, Art Taylor. “Remember, it’s not whether you touched a whale,” he told us at an earlier briefing, “but whether a whale touched you.”
He’s right, of course: our craving for contact can blind us to the privilege of simply watching this extraordinary animal at such close quarters.