Until that day, we had seen very few whales from Plancius, the ship on which we spent a week near Svalbard. But on the way back to the capital city of Longyearbyen, the captain sailed along the boundary of the continental shelf. This detour was meant to increase the chance of spotting whales.
And in the evening, we did – three minke whales. These small whales were joined by white-beaked dolphins, which cut through the waves with their dorsal fins. Hanging over the railing, I saw them dive under the boat. There were also harp seals eagerly sticking their snouts out of the water.
Fin whale - Picture by Koos Dijksterhuis
On deck an icy wind was blowing, so I ran to my cabin to put on another layer of clothing. Meanwhile, common fin whales were appearing. These are second largest animals in the world. They are not that common but are less rare than blue whales, the largest animals in the world. They were blowing their spouts and rolling off their backs before diving back into the depths.
The boundary of the continental shelf is a huge rock wall underwater along which sea currents are pushed up, providing food for krill and fish that are in turn eaten by marine mammals. Hence, the crowds.
Blue whale - Picture by Koos Dijksterhuis
At midnight the captain calls out that there are blue whales to be seen. I startle awake, dress hastily and see several of them under the midnight sun. One of the whales pops up right next to the vessel and then goes back down again. These giants have remarkably small dorsal fins.
There were also slightly smaller giants with longer dorsal fins. According to the experts on board (but to my surprise), these were northern right whales, the third largest animal in the world.
Fin whales - Picture by Koos Dijksterhuis
Northern right whales live far from the coast and don’t show themselves much on the surface of the sea. I have never seen them before. The blue ones sometimes stick their tails up in the air before diving, but the northern whales do not.
This blog is based on a translation from the column by Koos Dijksterhuis in daily newspaper Trouw.
Sei whale - Main image by Koos Dijksterhuis