We work with the arctic whale as our main target species. With so much time spent working with whales, and so much of our content orbiting around whales, I felt like it required a thorough explanation.
Curiosity is a common driver onboard. It´s somewhat of a mythical creature. As a child I would read about the blue whale, the biggest animal ever to exist. Even bigger than the ginormous Brachiosaurus, in my dinosaur book. With time I would learn about the sperm whale, the biggest brain in the animal kingdom, able to emit sounds louder than a shotgun, a capability that it uses to hunt as it dives to astonishing 3000 meters depth while holding its breath for more than two hours.
And the more we interact and study the whale, the more our curiosity increases – from our observations on board using hydroacoustics (sonar technology that enables us to monitor underwater physical and biological characteristics) to the knowledge we have gained by getting up close to them in the wild. Despite our efforts, we and science alike are still just scratching the surface of all there is to know and understand.
Then there is the adventure side to it. The challenge. Knowing that these creatures are out there, is what pushes us out of our comfort zone. It´s what makes us sail through blizzards in the dark, to reach an area where we think the first orcas of the season have arrived. It´s what makes us dress up in a wetsuit while we are taking a beating in a gale outside Andenes Norway in the dead of winter, for a 10 second glimpse of a sperm whale. It´s also what helps fuel our motivation, as we head out on our greatest challenge to date, the Arctic Sense expedition in 2021.
“Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities“ source, Wikipedia. Having spent a lot of time with numerous whale species, backed by talks with fishermen, scientists and desktop studies, it´s hard not to do what many say we should not – to build an emotional connection with these animals. Whether it’s the first time you listen to live sound recordings of orcas, later to read that they have a language, not too different from our own in complexity. Or discovering that the orcas stick together in family groups for life, with up to four generations in the same pod. A defining moment for us was meeting with the formerly captive, and now wild beluga, Hvaldimir. We spent well over an hour in the water. It felt like meeting an extra terrestrial being. The communication was on a much higher level then I’ve experienced with dogs, which we perceive as reasonably intelligent animals (until they get the leach stuck around a tree that is).
I shall never forget the words, nor shall I ever accept them in this context. It was the words from a photographer friend, as passionate about the whales and nature as you get. He had travelled the world, witnessed countless of whales but also the decline in their natural habitat and the buildup of plastic on the beaches. He had given up. He told me he was now out on a mission to document the whales, and enjoy while they were still there to see. I respectfully disagree. Yes, nature is facing it´s biggest challenge since a meteor struck earth 65 million years ago. Even though plastic pollution, ship strikes and organic pollutants represents a growing threat to the whales and the ocean as a whole, I choose to see the story of the whales, as one of hope. Numerous of the species were hunted to the brink of extinction in the previous centuries. We are now starting to see many of them making a slow and careful comeback. The blue whale has once again been seen off the coast of Norway, and humpback whales are once again back in great numbers in the North Atlantic. To me it´s a story showing us that if left alone, nature has an amazing ability to recover, and the whale is good protagonist in this narrative.
On this journey over the past decade, I have witnessed marvels I never thought possible. 300 pilot whales cheerfully (we could hear their clicks) trailing Barba for half an hour at full speed. Spending an hour with an orca bull, observing it while it was preying on a school of herring. Suspended under two fishing vessels alongside 3 humpback whales and 50 orcas all feasting on herring. Countless memories. But still one of the greatest privileges is to meet with people from across the globe, who shares this curiosity and commitment for the whales. The scientists who have pursued their childhood dream of becoming a whale researcher. The photographers, who sold all the belongings and risked it all. The sailors, who compensate for a lack in earthly goods with a wealth of ocean knowledge and passion. The journalist, who has travelled across the globe, at times in war zones, to tell a story they want the world to know. The business owner who invests in a better future. This diversity of skillsets, personalities combined by passion is one of the marvels I feel privileged to be part of, and to witness up close. All brought together by a passion for the ocean and whales.
Despite of the hardship, the risk we take and sacrifices we make to be out there I still feel a continuous obligation to be humble. Being humble that we are born in a time and place where we have the choice to pursue our dreams. What we do is reserved for the very lucky few. With this knowledge, I feel the same obligation as my heroes Fridtjof Nansen, Jacques Cousteau and Sir David Attenborough. An obligation to share with the world what we are seeing, and also communicating why not only the whale but all the creatures of the ocean deserve our protection. And this what we want to do, our best not only to document whales, but also to communicate their story in a great context of ocean conservation.
So we do what we do for a multitude of reasons. The excitement, the challenge and the want to do something good while still making a living in the process. As for the “enjoy it while it lasts”, I consider it to be a comfortable way at an individual level of not caring about ones impact as a consumer, as friend or parent, voter or business owner. When we combine what we do at individual level it means the world. We have an obligation to make the right choices, with information being a part of the process. A sustainable future does not contradict sustainable investments and growth. On the contrary. With our work we hope to inspire individuals in different ways, while showing that making the right choices does not need to be a the expense of a meaningful life.
As for one of my favourite quotes, is the reinterpretation of one from Edmund Burke. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of destruction is for good women and men to do nothing.”
Featured photo: Iceland 2019, encountering the animal of my childhood dreams, the blue whale. Photo by Tom Grove.