7 March 1999
On Board the Department of Conservation Vessel TOHORA
South Bay, Kaikoura, New Zealand

Listening to the Whales - Part Three

With the hydrophones in the water and the computer recording without any problem, we all settled in for a long day. The boat would slowly drift with the wind and currents, birds would fly by to investigate and one or two even thought that we were interesting enough to land in the water next to us and drift along with the boat. An occasional porpoise would swim by, take a look at what we were doing and head off looking for something more appealing. And then, coming towards us with deliberate speed, was that very recognizable triangular dorsal fin that could only be one thing - a shark. Keith and Bernard said that blue sharks were fairly common in these waters and that most likely this was one of those. Like the porpoise, the shark decided that we were probably not something worth eating and continued on his way.

The day wore on. We pulled the arrays a few times and moved to different locations to try and get closer to the whales. By mid-afternoon we had recorded quite a few complete dives which made Bernard quite happy, when Keith who had been monitoring the radio, heard that the weather was beginning to deteriorate fairly rapidly to our north and that it was heading our way.


With the weather closing in on us, we began to haul in the arrays with as much speed as we could, taking care not to damage any of the delicate connectors or hydrophones. Retrieving the hundreds of meters of line was certainly a two person job - me hauling in the line and getting thoroughly soaked in the process and Bernard coiling the line and spooling it back onto the drum. The single hydrophone line was relatively light and didn't take very much effort. However, as Bernard said to me when we started "Gene, today you are going to have the complete experience", I knew there was more it it than this. With the first line carefully stowed, Bernard said "OK, why don't you haul up the second one". By the smiles on Bernard and Keith's faces I should have guessed that I was in for something.

Remember that railway hammer Bernard tied to the end of 120 meters of very thick and very heavy cable? Well, it was now my turn to haul it back into the boat. The first few minutes were pretty easy but as more and more of the line came in, or perhaps as my arms grew more tired, I could swear that somebody or something had grabbed hold of the other end of the line and was pulling down every time I tried to pull it up. With Bernard and Keith providing encouragement, I finally managed to get the last of the line on board and was very happy to finally hold that weight in my hand.

With all the gear finally stowed, Keith fired up the engine and along with the rest of the boats that were in the area, we started to head back towards the dock as fast as we could in hopes of beating the weather. Just as we got underway I heard a loud, almost chirping sound. To my complete surprise, Keith reached into his pocket and pulled out a cellular phone. I couldn't hear a thing because of the roar of the engine, so imagine my surprise when he turned around, handed me the phone and said "it's for you, Mate".

I have had many experiences in my life but up until that point I had never actually used a cell phone. So here I am, racing across the waters of South Bay, New Zealand having my very first cell phone conversation. And who was at the other end of the line? Clyde - on his cell phone! He called to say that he had just spoken to the KAHAROA and that they were planning on doing the first dive in Kaikoura late this afternoon and that I should meet him at the boat - IMMEDIATELY. Sometimes there really is truth in the saying "being in the right place at the right time" because just as we ended our conversation, Keith was coming up alongside the Kaharoa.

 


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