(The red and yellow you see in this picture is the kayak.)
There are many theories about why whales breach: to get rid of parasites, to communicate, to fight, to display. All of these be true. Dolphins have been shown to recognise themselves in the mirror; humpback whales carry von economo neurons in the brain – a sign that they have emotions. We know that they have complex social relationships. There is no reason to think that they don’t think and feel things deeply.
Prof Joy Reidenberg from Mount Sinai University in New York, a whale specialist whom I worked with on a documentary series called Inside Nature’s Giant’s, told me: “Humpback whales usually breach in two ways: chin slaps where half the body emerges and they land on their throat, and full breaches where they land on their back (or side). Your whale did a full breach, but rotated and landed on the throat. This is unusual, and might indicate that it was surprised by your presence when it breached and saw you. Perhaps turning like that allowed it to put a softer part of its body next to you to cause less damage (compared with a body slam using the bone of the skull that they might employ while fighting). I think you two survived because the whale cared about trying not to hit you.”
I’ve looked back and there is a photo of the whale landing which seems to back up Joy’s theory. As it turned above us it would have looked down on our craft. It didn’t crush us as it fell, or injure us in the water, and it moved away very slowly.
When I lie in bed looking up at the whale in my mind, I think how lucky we are not to have continued to get rid of them as we have done until recently. It is strange that we search so avidly for aliens outside of this planet and are obsessed with creating artificial minds, while knowing so little about the workings of these enormous thinking animals in the sea.
You can read the entire story, plus see the video that was captured, at The Guardian link.
(Composite picture from here - all other photos from The Guardian link above.)