A special group of experts is freediving with dolphins and whales to explore their sophisticated communication systems in hitherto unseen ways. On the river, we joined them.
Fabrice Schneller has a goal in mind. He’s trying to get incredible new information for dolphin and whale studies. He is, however, an engineer, not a scientist.
His team created an underwater 3-D camera with high-end microphones to record the sophisticated conversation between these amazing marine creatures from all angles. They use sophisticated algorithms to determine which animal is making the sound.
By sending free divers into the water without the need for loud diving gear or distant submarines, they can capture intimate moments in unprecedented detail. The team intends to establish that these sentient organisms are conversing in their language with the support of experts from the University of Paris.
Maybe one day you’ll be able to interpret some of what they’re saying!
Fabrice, based on Reunion Island, led us out in the Indian Ocean in search of whales and dolphins.
Sailing the Hnoss
Our journey began on board the lovely Hnoss, an 80-year-old Norwegian whaling boat that has been restored to its former splendor and is now utilized for whale viewing rather than harpoons.
As the whale season began, we lowered the sails and headed out to sea, keeping an eye out for pods of dolphins or humpback whales that could be approaching. We might even be able to join them in the water if the conditions are just right!
We finally saw a pod of dolphins swimming around a few boats in the distance after a few hours of looking and sunbathing on the deck. We veered off route to investigate.
Dolphins off the Port Bow
It was a group of spinner dolphins, about 20 in number. They were particularly taken by the enormous profile of our wooden sailing ship, and swam straight up to us as we approached.
I was hanging low from a net in front of the bow, in the ideal position.
One group separated and swam back and forth just beneath me, where I was able to capture a beautiful shot. We couldn’t get into the water with them since other boats were surrounding us.
It’s not simple to swim among dolphins or whales in the open ocean. There are certain guidelines. You can’t expect them to remain around if you hunt them down. They must approach you and be intrigued (and at ease) enough to allow you to hang out with them.
Freediving with Whales
While seeing the dolphins up close was exciting, I wanted to swim with them. Swim with a whale, or much better. However, these things need time and patience.
Typical expeditions run 3 to 4 days, depending on how long it takes for a certain group of animals to become accustomed to the boat and not swim away. Remember, not long ago, we were whale hunters. Some folks are still like that. Humans make them nervous.
I had additional time on the island after revising my trip plans, so I asked Fabrice if I might join him to try again. He agreed to take me out on his team’s research boat.
His “team” consisted of four stunning French mermaids, three of whom were freediving professionals. That alone brightened my day.
Whale Watching Reunion
We motored out into the turbulent waves in search of a whale’s spout or splash. Fabrice took out an underwater microphone to listen for the telltale clicks or singing that could be heard for kilometers.
Whales are not only the largest but also the loudest creatures on the planet.
We didn’t hear any whale sounds at first, but it wasn’t long until we saw a massive tail emerge out of the water and splash in the distance.
Now comes the challenging part. Trying to convey that we don’t wish any damage to this lovely creature.
You Can’t Always Win
Unfortunately, this whale was not interested in staying. We just went close enough for it to see us and hoped it would swim over on its own.
However, it was still early in the season, and whales are still wary of vessels.
Our whale took a big breath and plunged into the depths for an underwater slumber after flashing a few glimpses of its tail. We opted to return to calmer waters and freedive for fun before calling it a day as the waves began to build up and clouds began to move in.
My underwater pals, till next time.