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Chopper Chasing Blubber

February 1, 2011

If you want to see a sperm whale in the middle of the ocean… and your new wifey can get the sea sick legs, then you really only have one option.  It is an awesome option. 

A helicopter ride!  I have never been on a helicopter and I sure have never seen a whale, so let’s get to the air and chase some sperm whales, shall we!?

My only experience with a helicopter has been with the movies.  They are always used for war time flicks or cops and robbers chase scenes…so you can imagine my childhood excitement level when the copter blades were chopping at the air on its approach. 

At the launching site, I even made Nikki run up to the chopper, hunched over while I screamed “faster soldier-move your ass, I love the smell of Napalm in the morning, get on that bird private, she is coming in hot!”  Nikki rolled her eyes, and the pilot rolled up his sleeves.

I told Nikki to duck her head, she challenged me to see how high I could jump.

Into the helicopter hub we climb.  ($440 per couple).  The pilot closes the flimsy doors, you put on your seatbelt and headphones…make a twirl signal with your finger like you are in charge, and we are ready for flight.  The engine rumbles and the blades quicken.  The chopper takes off, it’s like being on roller skates, it shifts right and left underneath you.  What a rush.

Quick ascension, the shore fades away, we are above the bubbly ocean surface and over 800 feet up.  Occasional boats are below you trying to keep pace with their white wakes etching their path behind them.

Around 2.5 miles out, we see the ocean break and the foam splash. A sperm whale!

54 ft long. But from this distance up it looks small swimming in the ocean mass.  As the chopper circles closer, our pilot cracks in over the radio…”the head of a sperm whale is so big, you could park a station wagon in it!” 

She is going to blow!


What the sperm whale can do is amazing.  It can hold it’s breath up to 2 hours.  It only needs 6-8 minutes on surface to breath it all in.  Most oxygen gets stored in its blood, for use when its lung capacity is burned up.  The tail can be the size of a plane wings span.  Whales have been tracked diving 3000 meters below.  This is around 9000 feet down and equivalent to around 1.75 miles depth!

Our whale was a regular and the pilot knew him. We got so close we could see scars on his face and head.  “What the hell are those wounds from?” I cracked into my radio mike.  Our pilot told us “they are from battles with deep water Giant Squids, can you imagine the fights they go thru to eat dinner?”  I had done my homework and crackled back “you know each tooth size can be 2.2 lbs, mate.” I had dropped some Wikipedia education on him and even finished my wisdom with some of his own mate lingo.  I looked at Nikki with a ‘whatta think of your man now, baby…I may not be flying this thing, but I got the sperm whale dental hygiene down pat.’  Our pilot responded, “no one here quotes weight in pounds mate, we use grams like the rest of the entire world.”  Nikki laughed at me and looked back at the whale.  I shrugged knowing that this was the one animal she MAY not ask me to bring home.

This thing is as big as my ego!

The sperm whale starts amping up for his dive down.  He breathes in and out, each time blowing water foam in huge arcs above his head.  Our copter circles around waiting for the dive.  One last breath and off he dives…Nikki captured these pictures with a 300mm Nikon lens.

A sperm whales tail can be as wide as a jet planes wingspan!

Our pilot notes the GPS location and calls the whale watching boats, so that in an hour or so they can find him surfacing, probably less hungry then.

It was a great to experience the whales from high above.  You can see how big and long they truly are from the air and to see them breathing and diving is something to behold.


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