The sun bathed my face and back in a warm, all-encompassing glow. I heard the rubber tyres of my wheelchair grip the wooden boardwalk. My husband’s voice seemed to echo in the distance, as if far away. My whole being, my focus, was on what was ahead, of fixing my eyes on the stretch of aquamarine water in front of me. I was searching for my first glimpse of a creature I had waited a long time to see this up close and personal. Excitement made my tummy jingle and juggle; my feet wanted to jump out of the chair and bolt down the slope.
I was at the Head of the Bight in South Australia. To my right the vast Nullarbor Plain came to an abrupt end, dropping straight to the sea in the Bunda Cliffs. On my left, the whitest of sand dunes hugged the slopes, merging into the horizon in one continuous sweep. The ocean, a wash of turquoise and aquamarine, lay calm and still, with only the occasional gentle wave.
The end of the boardwalk.
Below me, majestic southern right whales frolicked in the bay. I could only stare in wonder, silenced by the sheer size and beauty of these animals. There were about a dozen, many were mothers and their calves. I stood, taking barely a breath. Some lay calmly, barely moving, like black slicks of oil, topped by the distinctive white lumps on their heads. Others flickered in and out of the depths, tails emerging like black flashes of lightning, before diving again. Spouts of water shot into the air like soda fountains and occasionally I could hear their belches and groans. This was their crèche and breeding ground. I was lucky enough to be able to share their territory for this moment encapsulated in time.
We moved to a further point, where we were alone. A mother and her calf lay close to the cliff below me. There was nothing for me besides the whale. I dimly heard my husband moving away. It was if I was connected to this whale by an invisible thread, like a spiritual connection existed between us. It felt like she knew I was there, like she was telling me something. She lifted her head out of the water slightly, shifted it as if looking up at me. She moved her baby to her other side so I could see it roll over in the water. Her low moaning noises reached into the depths of my being. I can’t explain the power of that moment, of that animal’s trust in me, when I was alone for that moment with her and her calf.
My husband returned and wheeled me back to the car. Reluctantly I had to leave the whales to their breeding ground, but the moment in time when I connected to a mother and her calf will stay with me forever.