March 1, 2016
We boarded a small plane at the Kaikoura airstrip after being issued our life preserver and the safety lesson. I actually feel safer in a small plane since they go slower and thus crash more gently and fly lower and don’t fall so far. This may be all subjective but comforting over an ocean with recently spotted Great Whites. We found ourselves looking for a Sperm Whale.
There is a year round population of male Sperm Whales that feed on the plentiful population of giant squid that inhabit the depths off the light blue shallows near the island. When you reach the dark purple deep ocean, you start the serious watching. On schedule a whale was spouting on the surface. The whales spend only a few minutes re-oxygenating their blood between their dives into the deep. We circled him for four minutes before he expelled the air from his lungs and lifted his tail for a dive. He needs to eat nearly a ton of squid and large fish each day. After catching their breath, they are under for almost an hour. They use their sonic abilities to find their prey in the dark depths and then stun them with a sonic blast that is similar to getting kicked by a horse in your chest. This was all explained to us by our pilot. Before returning we saw a small group of Dusky Dolphins cavorting and performing aerial acrobatics. The flight was over too soon and we were off to our next adventure.
We return to the seal colony that we quickly visited yesterday. We spent a couple hours watching baby seals play “are you my mother?”. It’s tough being a pup. You go from rock to rock trying to find your mom. If you chose badly, you get a snarl and plenty of teeth. Mom will nuzzle you and allow you to feed. We saw many make correct choices and get lunch while others are chased away. Since they all looked healthy, they must eventually make a connection. In the mean time they spend the day wresting and pushing each other around in little pools or on the rocks. At this time of the year they are still learning to swim in the surf. It is now fall in NZ and their moms will soon start spending more time at sea re-charging their bodies from all of the nursing.
When the moms head to sea, the pups in this colony head up a short stream to a pool under a waterfall. It acts like a spa for seal pups. They socialize and play and wait for their moms to return from the sea. We walked up a trail to the falls and saw a few pups with their moms nursing in the woods near the stream. It was unusual to say the least. We relocated a few times to different locations and had our picnic.
After retuning to town we enjoying a low tide walk on the extensive tide pools. It was a pretty easy to walk over the mostly flat stones. Plenty of limpets and little mollusks waiting for the next high tide. Spotted some cormorants, oyster catchers and other shorebirds along with plenty of seagulls. It was a nice way to end the day before returning to the brewery for dinner. The food was as good as the previous evening.
Since we are now experts on seal behaviors, we are ready to swim with the seals tomorrow.