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Something shifts after a close encounter with animals in the wild. That transcendental spell last triggered for me when I was sitting quietly in a tangled clearing in the high altitude forests of Rwanda.
Something shifts after a close encounter with animals in the wild. That transcendental spell last triggered for me when I was sitting quietly in a tangled clearing in the high altitude forests of Rwanda. A family group of mountain gorillas tumbled out of the bamboo and sprawled out with abandon within metres of where I sat. After the initial adrenaline rush subsided, and we had settled into a companionable near-silence, the largest of the group turned to look me square on. For a moment that lasts to this day, I saw the world through those all-seeing brown eyes framed in a black furry face. Those tranquil pools somehow captured 4 billion years of evolution that has our two species sharing the same blue planet, suspended in an infinite cosmos.
It happened again on this expedition. We were sailing off the coast of the west Antarctic Peninsula. A silvered morning, deep steel cold blue waters scattered with sea ice and icebergs in a vast amphitheatre defined by the Antarctic coast’s snow covered mountains. Pods of humpback whales were spotted ahead. Inflated rubber Zodiac boats quickly launched, and we sped off to get up close and personal.
Some were pre-occupied with feeding. We saw them surface with steamy blows, their humped dorsal fins tracing a languid arc above the waterline. Then a down dive to get a baleen bloated mouthful of krill, launched with a massive jaw-dropping tail flip.
Across the bay, another whale -- satiated, curious and playful fooled around a boat of entranced on-lookers, its rubbery, bumpy head spying out the visitors to its world. And as awesomely large as these whales are, as it slipped beneath the surface it triggered a connection to a vast watery world beneath that is its home, and which we can only begin to imagine and understand.
What do we know about that world? Probably that a changing climate is affecting its saline concentrations, its acidity, its temperature, its currents, its nutrient loads and the millennia-tuned balance that produces millions and millions of tonnes of krill to feed humpbacks and most other higher-order species in the Antarctic and way beyond. So, on this occasion, my encounter flashed fast-forward to an uncertain future and what we will make of it.
(Photos by courtesy of Jessie Westbury & Michela Michelotti)