Diving with Whales: Facing My Fears in the Pacific Ocean

The ocean was as calm as a swimming pool. The water only shifted slightly as the boat moved closer to the whale. The pink shades of the sky were mirrored in the water. We could only see the hump of the giant, and the only sound was her steady breath and the occasional expulsion of water. As the whale started swimming away from us, I thought nothing could be more beautiful. As if she had heard my thoughts, the humpback whale took its tail out of the water and showed us her grandeur.

I wish I could tell this story to my younger self, to the little girl who was terrified to swim in the ten-foot pool because ‘there was a whale at the bottom’. Until last October, I had always felt an irrational fear of whales. When I swam too deep, I kept picturing orcas, and I felt the desperate need to get out of the water. Even as a teenager I had nightmares about these animals. It was traveling that transformed fear into beauty.

I felt so small, such a tiny piece of the universe, but all of a sudden I wasn’t so afraid of the giants. They made sense, they were part of something so beautiful; they were beautiful.

For a few years, I had been a certified scuba diver, but I had never been to the Pacific Ocean. So when my father and brother came up with the idea of joining a diving excursion  was thrilled. In Colombia, we are lucky to have access to both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. In the Pacific there’s an island called Gorgona. It’s 21 miles off the coast, and currently only occupied by a military base. It was a prison until 1984, but nowadays it’s a National Natural Park and is open to tourism. So we packed our wetsuits, headed to Buenaventura Harbor and boarded the Sea Wolf, along with another 20 divers.

Between July and November, humpback whales migrate towards warmer waters to mate and give birth to their offspring. We were told we would probably see the whales from the boat. Everyone was excited, including me. There was no harm in seeing the whales far from the boat, maybe even miles away. But then we were told we would possibly see them while diving. My heart stopped. The instructor said that if a whale swims above you, everything goes pitch black and you can hear the whale’s beating heart. I was terrified; this was the stuff of nightmares.

The first dive in Gorgona was scary, but I saw amazing fauna and flora so I focused on that instead. Two days passed and we never saw a whale while diving. Only a few could be seen, far away from the boat. I was relieved. There was only one night and one day left. But that also meant the night dive.

If a whale swims above you, everything goes pitch black and you can hear the whale’s beating heart.

We were floating in the black ocean, which was hard to distinguish from the black sky. I held the anchor rope with my diving buddy. I submerged my head to start descending, and the second my ears were in, I heard the singing of the whales. It was so loud. They seemed so close. I panicked and took my head out of the water immediately.  My buddy, who also happened to be my instructor, followed me. I explained that I couldn’t do it, not if there were whales around. “They may be miles and miles away, it’s just their singing that travels so far. I’ll be with you the whole time, you will see its worth it. Take slow deep breaths,” my instructor reassured me. So we descended together, pointing our flashlights to the black block of water below.

When we reached the sandy floor and joined the others, the instructor indicated for us to turn off our flashlights. Suddenly, we were swimming in the sky. The plankton glows when you move the water, so you feel surrounded by swarms of shiny little stars. We lay in the sand, staring in awe. I realized then that it was also the singing of the whales that made this moment so magical. I felt so small, such a tiny piece of the universe, but all of a sudden I wasn’t so afraid of the giants. They made sense, they were part of something so beautiful; they were beautiful.

That night and the following day, when I got to see a whale up close at sunset, were possibly the most magical experiences of my life. Back at the Sea Wolf, I thought the little girl at the ten foot pool would be proud.

 

Diving with Whales: Facing My Fears in the Pacific Ocean

About Daniela Cristancho

Daniela CristanchoDaniela is a passionate journalism student born and raised in Bogota, Colombia. She spent six months living in Lyon, France, and is planning her upcoming semester in Madrid. Avid reader and writer, she strongly believes in the power of words. She dreams of publishing books and making le tour du monde. Daniela always chooses the window seat.

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