A Majestic Close Encounter

Whales are majestic creatures that symbolize freedom. They can make hearts palpitate with giddiness and excitement like teenage romance. So imagine the inner screams when the Captain radioed our Zodiac driver , Christophe, that there is a whale by the ship and is putting on quite the show. Okay, let’s back up a little.

Few weeks’ back, I was on a photo tour in Svalbard, 79 degrees north in the Arctic. My fellow photographers and I were on a zodiac, cruising around the mesmerizing blue glaciers while in search for polar bears. We had scoped the place out pretty well and realized that we were not going on a date with the polar bears today. And that’s when the Captain radioed us!

Enough said. We were on our way! While hurrying back to the ship, it felt like an eternity. We could not get there fast enough. Christophe and I wanted to stay on the zodiac. So we dropped off my fellow photographers to the ship and then zipped off in hopes of getting close to the majestic beauty. While we raced away from the ship, we saw a couple of puffins at close proximity. We “flew” together for a few seconds, which felt like a rush of freedom.

Now, began the game of patience. We drove to where we thought the whale was. And every time we thought we got close, the whale would reappear in a distance far away. So we kept driving through the choppy waters, waiting, and looking for waterspouts to indicate the whales’ whereabouts.

While impatiently, patiently waiting, I screamed to Christophe with all my might and childlike excitement, “Wouldn’t it be ridiculously awesome if the whale showed up like right here,” as I pointed two inches from the zodiac. And I kid you not, but within minutes of making the wish, it came true!!! As we were looking for the whale in a distance, it came out of the water just a few feet away from us! OMG! What an unreal sight! We were both wrapped in a beautiful moment of shock and awe. Suddenly, time had slowed down.

Gently and ever so gracefully, the whale calmly cruised by us. The whales’ back glided past us as if it was sensuously teasing us. That movement was like poetry in motion. Simply breathtaking! And just like that, it was over. For the rest of the day, Christophe and I could not wipe the smile off our faces. We looked like the Joker with smiles that stretched from ear to ear.

Such moments are incredibly special for so many reasons. The whale chose to come close to us! It was curious and so it decided to pay us a visit. It also required the whale to trust us! A close whale encounter in the open seas versus in captivity at places like Sea World, is like forcing a child to hug you so they don’t get punished versus them hugging you by their own choice and free will. The latter is undoubtedly more honest, and hence, touches a chord within.

This moment was even more special because I got to experience it with someone. But not just anyone. It was Christophe! While we had met only a few days ago, we had a connection. Christophe, a soulfully beautiful person, appreciated the moment and understood the gravity of what we were experiencing. He was equally enthusiastic and excited. And that was energizing!

This was also a photographer’s dream. The irony was that the whale was too close for my telephoto lens, and the close encounter was too short lived to change the lens. As a photographer, it is easy to get wrapped up in the insatiable desire to capture everything on film. Similar to my Aurora Borealis experience in Iceland, this was a moment that was best experienced and captured in memory only. There is something about it that allows one to relive that moment forever, while maintaining its purity in secrecy.

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