I met him 10 years ago off the coast of Dominica. My wife, Rhona, was with some guests when she first saw him. His head and dorsal fin were badly cut, and when he came closer to the boat, they petted him for a few minutes before returning to shore with the news. We figured there was a good chance he’d be in the same spot the next day –– whether or not he’d be alive was another story. But there he was the next day, and when he sidled up to the boat again we petted him. He seemed to enjoy the encounter, and as the weeks progressed and his injuries healed, our relationship grew. We named him Scar. I got into the water with Scar a few days after that first encounter, with the naive idea that perhaps I could apply some antibiotic cream to his wounds. Having swum with sperm whales since the early 1990s I wasn’t scared, and from that first in-water encounter with Scar I realized he had a closer attachment to us than any other whale before him. From then on, every time I entered the water I’d clap loudly and say, “Come to daddy.” Now he comes when called, and clearly recognizes me and enjoys the contact, the touch –– many times I’ll go into the water and just give him a nice rub, like you’d rub a horse down. Over the years we’ve had some interesting encounters. One day when Scar was three, a pod of pilot whales encircled Scar and his mother, Pinchie. I got between the pilot whales and Scar, holding them off for 20 minutes until he and his mother dived. The pilot whales pursued, and I thought that was the last time I’d see him. A few days after the encounter, he came to the boat and put his head above the water so I could see all the scars and scratches from the attack. I felt that was his way of showing us, thanking us for saving him from the pilot whales. Scar’s 10 years old now and, even though I take guests to see and snorkel with my good friend, I know that some day soon he’ll leave the all-female group to live a solitary life until he returns to mate. And although this makes me sad, I’m grateful for the years I’ve spent with Scar. I just wonder if my old friend will remember me when he comes home.
See Scar and friends with Andrew and Rhona’s Kubuli Watersports (on Facebook). Note: Getting into the water with a whale is only possible on a permit from the Dominica Fisheries Department, which Kubuli Watersports can obtain. It’s also important to remember that whales are wild animals and should not normally be approached. (Not to mention it’s illegal.)