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High seas diary: Part 11 - underwater success

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Gordon Buchanan Gordon Buchanan | 20:17 UK time, Monday, 19 October 2009

Feet firmly back on dry land after a week at sea. Having done well 
with the top side filming last week we decided to try solely with the 
underwater camera for the final three hauls of the net. The first time was 
a farce, with me at one end of the boat and all the killer whales at 
the opposite end doing their stuff.


The perfection of nature

I tried to move to where they 
were, but walking with a six meter length of heavy metal pole moving 
around a boat in a strong swell is a frustrating, slapstick 
performance. There a very small window of opportunity to get them when 
they were feeding that by the time I had moved to where they were they 
were gone.

The second haul was similarly unrewarding. The light was perfect but 
the seas were considerably more angry. I used a shorter pole to make 
the system more manageable, but with the full-on swell and the rocking 
and rolling of the boat the camera was continually being dunked in and 
out of the water. I switched back to the longer pole, but due to the 
swell, added weight and awkwardness I got the pole ensnared in the net 
and ripped the camera clean off and put an unwelcome right angle in my 
previously straight pole.

With the camera saved I switched back to the 
smaller pole, but by this time the cables were in a mess of knotted 
sticky spaghetti, and the screen was barely visible through a layer of 
sea salt and mackerel guts. The huge net was swaying over us, 
suspended five meters above me, raining mackerel parts onto my head. 
That, driving rain and heavy seas had beaten us on the penultimate haul.

We had one more haul before the season's quota was reached. I knew we 
only had one more go; I just hoped that it would be in the daylight. 
The last chance saloon. We hauled in as the sun was cozying up to the 
horizon. The whales showed up, but inexplicably stayed away until the 
very last. With all problems resolved, and every last bit of 
determination we had, we got some incredible views of several whales 
beneath the waves.

Boy, it is eerie to see them down there in their own world. On the 
surface, all is a foaming, violent and wind whipped maelstrom. Under 
that tortured sea is a strange scene of peace. To us, a world of dark 
and unsettling tranquility. A seemingly empty place where immense 
killer whales glide effortlessly, planning their next move, 
communicating to unseen companions with unheard sounds. You want to 
know what it really was? It was gazing through a window into a world 
that showed me the perfection of nature and nothing else.

(Missed any of my high seas diary entries? You can catch up with them all here.)


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