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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Having a whale of a time: Snorkelers get up close and personal with modern Moby Dick

By Daily Mail Reporter

Close encounter: Arun Madisetti's son Dylan snaps Scar the habituated Sperm whale off the coast of The Commonwealth of Dominica

These stunning shots show snorkelers coming face to face with the world's largest predator, the sperm whale.

Taken by British marine biologist Arun Madisetti off Dominica in the Caribbean where he now lives, the curious whales interact with the divers, allowing them to get up close.

Hunted for their oil and demonised as savage brutes in fiction such as Herman Melville's Moby Dick, these pictures show a gentler side to one of the planet's largest mammals.

The Commonwealth of Dominica is known regionally as the whale watching capital of the Caribbean and around 200 sperm whales are found off the coast, though they are hard to track down.

Boats use sonar and spout sightings to locate them, but it is quite rare to find them in a relaxed and playful mood, while divers only use snorkels as the air bubbles from scuba tanks disturbs them.

Mr Madisetti, 47, said: 'Taking images of any marine mammal whether for research or pleasure is usually a mixture of hours of relative boredom coupled with moments of sheer adrenaline fuelled action.

'Sometimes the whales will swim up to the boat to check you out, using sonar from a distance, sometimes they will just swim past, infrequently stop and roll around like 30 ton puppies, and tempt you to get in and follow.

'On the latter occasion it is all you can do to keep up, try to hold the camera steady, and hope the preset functions are correct.'

He added: 'It all depends upon the whale. Once back on the boat when the gasping for air and heaving chests are slowing, then maybe I''ll check to see what I got.'

'With animals like whales, you only get one chance so why fret on the boat, you're wasting time by not looking for the next fleeting opportunity to get in and shoot.'

Once numbering around a million, their numbers were decimated over nearly 200 years of being hunted for the highly prized oily white spermeceti found in its head and used in candles, cosmetics, soap and machine oils.

The oil in its blubber was used in specialised lubricants, pencils, leather waterproofing and many pharmaceutical compounds while ambergris, a waxy substance found in the whale's stomach was also used as a fixative in perfumes.

Sociable swimmers: The whales seem to glide by effortlessly as the photographer at the surface tries to keep pace while Mr Madisetti snaps from below

Sperm whales have the largest brain of any animal, are the largest toothed animal and the largest living predator.

Diving to depths of three kilometres to feed on giant and colossal squid also makes them the deepest diving mammal.

The clicking sound they make is also the loudest sound made by any animal.

Images are taken under a strictly enforced government research permit and certain images are given to Caribwhale the region's marine mammal database for identification purposes. All images are taken under permit and this is not a tourist trip.

The whales are only photographed four times a year. Due to hunting the species is listed as vulnerable but has also gone down in folklore.

In 1820 an American whaling ship, the Essex, was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale, which inspired Herman Melville to pen the classic tale Moby Dick.



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