DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: No camera, just connection

AN UNMEDIATED ENCOUNTER: It’s what I hoped for on the whale-watching boat.

Stepping aboard with a jumble of strangers, I wondered how close we might come to the massive humpbacks.

Would we see them rise up from the waves, like dinosaurs come back to life?

On the way out, the crew schooled us.

Humpbacks nurse their newborn calves — producing some 200 liters of milk per day — in the calm Caribbean, then take off for summers in Newfoundland, Greenland and beyond, where they feed and fuel their 50-foot selves.

Our biology lesson was delivered in English, French, Spanish and German, so I could watch one group of passengers after another perk up to listen.

On this tour, I had left something behind — intentionally: my Nikon.

I love photography, but just this once I wanted to behold a whale with my eyes and heart, and not worry about getting The Shot.

And so it happened.

We saw a male humpback “flirting” with a female, raising a fin in languid greeting.

The fin stretched 12 feet, long enough to reach from the floor of a banquet room to the ceiling.

We also saw a series of chin breaches — one whale bursting vertically from the sea. Then, wonder of wonders, a pair of humpbacks swam under our boat. All 60 of us stayed quiet, gazing over the rail at the giants.

Kim Beddall, the marine mammal specialist who served as our guide, called this “getting mugged” by the creatures.

Fine by me.

For several moments, this whale-watching voyage was a silent retreat.

I wasn’t snapping photos. I felt at peace.

Nothing lay in the way of connection between land mammal me and those graceful ocean behemoths.

I was fortunate enough to have this experience in Samaná Bay, on the northern side of the Dominican Republic.

Beddall calls this place the singles’ bar for humpback whales, as it’s where the males and females eye each other, then court and couple.

I returned to the Olympic Peninsula in time for the gray whales to come by here.

Whale-watching outfits in Port Townsend and Port Angeles make trips out to see the various whale species of the Pacific.

It’s about whale watching, not whale chasing, according to Peter Hanke, granddad of the family that has run Puget Sound Express since 1985.

Coincidentally, his company is close in age to Beddall’s Whale Samaná, which began in ’84.

“Our attitude has always been to be the boat that’s kind of hanging back,” Hanke said, “and I try to instill that in our captains.”

Yet there is controversy about whether the numerous whale-watching boats are good for the whales.

Hanke acknowledges that his fleet is quite large and, during the season from April through October, he noted, some 9,000 people go out to see the big guys and gals.

So there’s a delicate balance between giving humans a chance to venture into the wild and preserving those wild creatures’ right to live in peace.

Hanke said that while his crews are not aggressive in their pursuit of whales, the Pacific Whale Watch Association is aggressive in its guidelines.

“We work in concert with NOAA, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans out of Canada,” he said, adding, “half of us are American and half are Canadian” in the organization.

Watchers — us — also have a role to play, of course, in holding the outfits accountable.

I do believe, when all’s said and done, that we creatures crave the same thing: connection with other living beings.

_________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be April 18.

Reach her at [email protected]

More in Opinion

POINT OF VIEW: Protect Clallam County’s access to health care

By Eric Lewis Chief Executive Officer Olympic Medical Center CLALLAM COUNTY’S HEALTH… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: The lost and the not yet lost

THERE ARE ONLY two types of mushroom pickers. Those that have gotten… Continue reading

WEST END NEIGHBOR: Twilight festival brings faithful to Forks

TRINITY HANNING, 16, told me her stagecraft teacher said “she is possessed… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: Blue-tarp camping misery

THERE’S NOTHING QUITE like the sound of rain on the roof, unless… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: You can’t go crabbing in a tidal wave

THANK YOU FOR reading this. Sometimes I think if you didn’t read… Continue reading

DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Carol, Jim, Jimmy and Lillian

IT’S A NEW, old story. About 20 years ago, Carol Swarbrick and… Continue reading

WEST END NEIGHBOR: Still a bumpy path to jobs’ completion in Forks

WHEN SOMEBODY SAYS “the best laid plans” and leaves the words to… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: The coming subduction event

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news. The state Department of… Continue reading

PAT NEAL: Up in smoke

THOSE WHO IGNORE history are doomed to watch television. This enduring truth… Continue reading

WEST END NEIGHBOR: It’s not just the park — it’s the people

LOOKING DOWN AT the ladder of the avalanche chute, it appeared the… Continue reading

DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: A fresh look, in full color

IT HAPPENS WHEN least expected. A single still image beams me back… Continue reading