whale watching in Garopaba
As I´ve mentioned here before, Florianópolis is an island (with 42 beaches). That´s where I´m living right now. And yes, I feel lucky, but at the same time, it was a choice. So, smart and lucky?
On a Sunday, we decided to drive around the southern part of the island, around Pantano do Sul beach when we saw a sign with “Praia da Solidão” or Solitude Beach. The name seemed suggestive, so we drove along. As we approached a hill, we saw a lot of cars parked on the side and people watching something in the ocean. We stopped by and found out what everyone was looking at, were right whales swimming. A woman next to me had a pair of binoculars, so I was able to get a closer look and felt ecstatic. We drove a bit further and saw them somewhat close to the shore. It was amazing.
But I wanted to see them a bit closer. So I looked for whale watching tours and a colleague at work recommended Brazil Trails (www.braziltrails.com), a tourism company here in Florianópolis that offers different tours for foreigners, mainly. So I booked a whale watching tour in Garopaba (a 30 minute drive from Florianópolis).
The tour starts early, at 8:15 am, starting with a quick speech about right whales´ characteristics and behavior, the specie that visits the coast of Santa Catarina.
From May to October, right whales flee the Antarctic cold waters and migrate to southern Brazil, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand for their reproduction period. The beaches of Santa Catarina become a sort of nursery, with mothers teaching their babies how to swim, jump and develop the muscles needed to migrate back to Antarctica.
During winter in this hemisphere, adult whales don´t nourish themselves, because they can´t find the type of food they like in these oceans. Yes, they are selective. They feed on small shrimp only found in the Arctic region. They eat by “filtering” water while swimming with their mouth open. When they are in southern Brazil, during our winter, they feed their babies, which drink 200 liters of fat rich milk and gain around 5 kilos (around 12 pounds) a day.
Right whales have calluses on their head covered by small crustaceans and huge black bodies that can grow to be 15 meters long. As they swam by the boat, they looked like submarines.
Right whales have that name because they are tame and friendly and thus became known as “the right whale to kill”.
Since 1973 whale hunting has been banned here in Brazil, which was different than in Japan. In Japan, whale hunting was (or is) primarily for food consumption, amongst other reasons (and yes, I have to admit I ate whale sushi in Tokyo). Here in Brazil, whale fat was used for oil (for lighting houses) and for construction (it was used as a cement), mostly of churches.
About the whale watching tour:
I met the rest of the group at the Right Whale Institute in downtown Garopaba. After a short explanation, we put on waterproof coats, took off our shoes and hopped in the boat (my jeans were soaked by then). When the boat is about 10 meters from the whales, the engine is turned off and we must remain in silence. No feet thumping please. Whales have very good hearing and you don´t want to scare them away. This is when the boat starts to swing. A lot. And that´s why you should accept the anti-nausea pill they give you before you get in the boat.
You might get a bit nauseous (and that´s why you shouldn´t go on this tour with a hangover), but you will be amazed as they start to swim right next to the boat. Right whales are also very curious creatures. And then they start to swim, play and jump.
While I was throwing up, half hanged from the edge of the boat, I saw the most beautiful scene: mother and baby jumping up. But that moment will only be in my memory. I was physically unable to shoot that picture. When I was finally “put together” I was able to take a sequence of great pictures of a tail waving. It was bliss.
That day I was lucky again, and after Garopaba, I saw another whale jumping (at a distance this time) at beautiful Guarda do Embaú. What a special day.
This is Guarda do Embaú: