Friday 16th February, 2001
Walvis Bay, Namibia
Writer : 
Brady Gilchrist

James woke me at 0400 to see something truly spectacular on our passage from Mercury Island to Walvis Bay. It was a totally starless and moonless night. The sea was black velvet. The air was chilled and in the sea was a sight I’ll never forget. Dolphins swimming in our bow wave - dolphins that were glowing in the dark. When you disturb certain types of phytoplankton they give off light called bio-luminescence. Last night we saw something that was mind blowing. We could not take a picture of it because there are some things that even the sophisticated camera gear on board STARSHIP can’t capture. Sometimes only the human eye is sensitive enough to capture a scene. I’ll try to share the experience by painting a picture for your minds eye. 

The sea was relatively calm. Dolphins use bow waves to surf from one location to another, it is a way for them to conserve energy. The plankton must have been rich in these waters last night. Because of the bio-luminescence we could see life just about everywhere, even the smallest fish near the surface glowed, the bulbous bow of STARSHIP glowed, the spray from our bow cutting the surface glowed but, nothing glowed like the dolphins. Perhaps you have seen those chemical light sticks, the ones with two chemicals inside. You break a small inner tube, the chemicals mix and a ghostly green-yellow light comes out. Imagine the silhouette of a dolphin painted with a think line of that chemical light and a lighter coating over the body. The light show constantly changed as the dolphins moved through the water. As they would speed up, the eddies in the ocean left by their wake would also glow in this eerie green. 

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Dune 7.
[ photo - James Frankham ]

This may have been one the most dramatic observations of dolphins we have had. Last night we were able to see them perfectly down to a depth of about 3 metres. We were truly invited closer into their world than I have seen before. We were able to observe how they feed in the bow wave. We saw how closely they grouped together. We were traveling about 10 knots and at certain points one would fall behind and rocket out in front doing perhaps double our speed. They would simply take fish that happened to be in our path. They rarely deviated far away so that they would stay in the bow wave. One of our guests leaped from the ocean, the splash from its return hit my face, bringing me firmly back from hypnotizing nature of there perfectly synchronized feeding ballet.

As we moved through the ocean we could see small schools of fish everywhere. It was like the ocean was covered here and there with glowing mats. The life in our midst is a tribute to the richness of the Benguela current. As STARSHIP ploughed through one of these mats, the glow would grow much brighter as the fish struggled to get away from the feeding dolphins. The light created by the movement of the small fish so bright you could see individuals running for their lives beneath the surface. The dolphins danced in this ethereal light for over three hours before leaving us and going to that mysterious place in the deep where only they know for certain how their days pass.

The other thing that made this moment so striking is that these were Heaviside dolphins, a species whose behaviour is relatively unknown and only recently actually photographed. It feels like a moment of discovery, a moment of pioneering insight - something that I wish we could have photographed. It was other worldly and possibly an experience that will never happen again, not because we won’t look for it but rather because nature grants these gifts once in our short lifetime.

The dolphins were gone by 0500 this morning. There seems to be a pattern, they show around 0200 and vanish again within three hours. The remainder of the watch was uneventful, until we arrived just outside of Walvis Bay to the sight of a burning trawler being towed to sea by a tug, perhaps being lead to its final resting place. The smoke was intense. Walvis Bay is very flat. As we approached at 1000h the only structures visible were the docks and the fish processing stations. We still see the sand dunes in the distance which has become for us a Namibian trade mark.

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Flamingos.
[ photo - James Frankham ]

After spending most of the day working on the boat we had a wonderful tour of Walvis Bay by our agent Louis Reichert and his wife Christa. They gave us a great overview of this city by taking us everywhere so that we could determine where we to spend time during the next week. There is a wide diversity of culture, wildlife and natural beauty to see here. The flamingo population is massive and Dune 7 will be a spectacular climb. Walvis Bay’s major economic sector is commercial fishing. We are looking forward to exploring many of the diverse areas to be found here.

We say goodbye to Norma today - it was a pleasure meeting you - you are a person who radiates the energy of life. 

Fair winds, calm seas.

Brady

RECENT LINKS :
Wilderness Safaris - http://www.wilderness-safaris.com
Oilspill Information at the University of Cape Town - http://www.uct.ac.za/depts/stats/edu/oilspill
International Foundations for animal welfare - http://www.ifaw.org