About 20 Septembers ago, I was fishing for yellowfin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico with a Plaquemines Parish native who, at the time, was an offshore guide. Our first stop of the day produced two good fish before the action died, and we decided to see what else we could find.
On the way from one platform to another, the captain spotted a whale off in the distance that was breaching the surface and waving its massive tail in the air.
All thoughts of tuna left our minds, and we altered our course to intercept the giant mammal. Then things got really interesting.
The whale had been moving in a straight line and at a consistent pace, but when it saw us, it put on the brakes. We eased up alongside it, and the whale turned on its side to get a better look at us. It was at least as curious about us as we were with it.
I peered over the gunwale of the boat, and looked into the eye of the whale. To this day, I’d swear I saw self-awareness. It was an existential moment for me, and it seemed to be for the whale as well.
The guide said it was a sperm whale. I looked it up after we got back on dry land, and he was right.
That experience made me appreciate the unbridled joy felt by this work crew as a sperm whale swims by their ROV 2,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Their reaction is similar to what you might imagine among NASA engineers if a remote-controlled rover on a distant planet happened upon a space alien.
For a few minutes, they forget all about the job they were there to do.
I don’t blame them one bit.