Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tropical whales

Took a whole year of waiting and having the luck to pick the perfect day to meet these wonderful cetaceans of the tropical seas. 
My trip to Bangtaboon Bay is to the north of Pak Thale in Phetchaburi was blessed with calm seas and clear skies. The bay is where the Bangtaboon River meets the sea, and it is known as a shellfish farming area where blood cockles, oysters and mussels are farmed.
The long almost three hour boat ride out had us lining up our cameras and testing each one in anticipation of sighting whales. Till Capt. Chamroon called out to us from the wheel house. We strained our eyes towards the far horizon but we could hardly make out anything. Grabbing our gear and moving to the bow of the boat we waited in anticipation.
We were soon in the company of two large Bryde's whale, which were feeding on their favorite fish - anchovies.
Little did we expect to have these whales as company for almost 3 hours as they chased schools of anchovies to fill their large stomachs. It was an exhilarating time trying to follow the individuals as they moved swiftly through the water and only to realize that they sometimes swam right under our boat.
Often they were so close that you could almost touch them and smell their breath. Through our lenses we could see fish sliding off their backs and trying to jump out of the whale's way. It was truly an awesome, awesome experience.
Finally, we decided it was time to head back to the coast as we wanted to photograph sea birds as we caught the last glimpse of a whale gracefully sink into the calm azure water.
The Bryde's whales are baleen whales. They filter food through the baleen plates which hang down in the mouth like a comb. The exterior of the baleen plates is coarse, while the inner part has a finer texture. There are 250 to 370 baleen plates. They feed on plankton, krill or small schooling fish like anchovy or small mackerel. Each whale eats up to 300 to 500kg of food a day.
These whales have sleek blue-grey bodies, smooth skins and curved, triangular dorsal fins nearer the tail. Their heads have three rostrum ridges and two blowholes. Their eyes are tiny in comparison, and are located on each side of their mouths. Their undersides are pinkish-white, with 40-70 ventral pleats or throat grooves. They grow to a length of 14 to 15.5m, and can weigh up to 30 tonnes with female being the larger one.
They prefer water temperatures above 20°C so it is most common in coastal areas of tropical and subtropical waters of all seas. 
They were named after a Norwegian whaling entrepreneur who set-up whaling plant in South Africa in the early 1900s.

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