The Devon Whale



Since I was a child I felt a great sense of awe for the majestic beauty, grace, and sheer size of whales. Whenever I would see them on David Attenborough documentaries I would wipe tears from my eyes. They prompt me to feel a sense of oneness with mother nature and remind me that as a human being, I am not separate from them, I am simply sharing this world with them, quietly bumbling along, making the best of it.

I had been hearing news of a humpback whale popping up along the South-West Devon coastline for days. Only when news hit that she had shown herself in the waters along Paignton and Brixham and photographs had been posted, did I really believe this amazing stroke of luck to be true.

Towards the end of a university session, we were interrupted by two of our lecturers. They had been to Berry Head during their lunch break and had witnessed the magnificent humpback frolicking in the water, a stone’s throw down from the edge of the cliff. Only when they showed us photographs and videos and gave us excited accounts of what they had experienced, did a fire spark within me. I had to see this whale.

The next day the entire class pooled into various cars and headed down to the National Nature Reserve. As a team of animal lovers, we enthusiastically trekked up to the end of the headland and took a seat on the stone and grass. We looked out over the endless ocean willing her to appear with our eyes.

It is an incredibly rare thing to see a large whale in this part of the country and I could feel a sense of disbelief throughout the group that we would see her at all. I silently crossed the fingers in my mind. We sat patiently for hours, willing for her to show herself. We peered through binoculars, catching glimpses of harbour porpoise fishing and gannets diving.  As time went by, members of the group had to leave for various other commitments, and in the end, there were three of us left.

It was during the 7th hour that all our patience and persistence paid off and we were graced with the presence of a beautiful and frankly rather playful humpback whale. My friend Holly spotted her first. All three of us giggled like school girls as we ran over to get a closer look, legs wobbling like jelly.

The three of us were beaming with joy as we watched her sail through the water, growing larger as she drew nearer. She began to leap out of the water and was soon laid on her back, waving her fins slowly yet repetitively.  I do not intent to be anthropomorphic, but she seemed so relaxed and playful. It was as if she was showing off. A polite “Hey! I’m a beautiful whale! Look at what I can do!”. It was a scene I could have watched for hours if she had of stayed.

After 45 minutes of following her around the headland, watching her rise and submerge, she swam off into the distance. The last view of her was the typical scene. A beautiful tail sinking into the still ocean. Then she was gone, and all went quiet.

Since our sighting, she has not been witnessed off Berry Head again. However, she has been spotted down near Slapton and Blackpool Sands and unfortunately became tangled in some fishing line. Thank goodness for the volunteers from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue who worked hard to cut her free.

The whale touched so many people and provided memories which will last a lifetime, but if we want future generations to experience the pleasure we did, it is important that we do our utmost to protect the ocean and marine life. We all have a part to play and we all can make a difference.