Sunday, August 12, 2012

Whales in the Lagoon

This morning an announcement on the radio, "yachties, look to the west and you'll see a sperm whale playing in the lagoon." A few hours later anther call, "yachties, look towards the entrance of the lagoon and you'll see a pod of humpbacks coming in." The park ranger "Ants" (Anthony) was making the announcements and you could look out and spot the whales. We did see the giant sperm whale leap out of the water (amazing that something that big can actually leave the water) and then saw as he (or she) did lots of tail flaps, splashing up big spray. Whales inside the lagoon is pretty cool! We couldn't spot the humpbacks though...bummer.

Suwarrow is a magical place – but it is very windy! And that constant heavy breeze does unfortunately also make where we are anchored quite an uncomfortable as the waves roll in. So the key is to get off the boat and go exploring. Yesterday we snorkeled from the boat to a nearby reef. A few of the local reef sharks accompanied us on the trip. The coral here is some of the healthiest and most varied that we've seen so far. And the fish – wow! The colors, shapes, designs and numbers of them are incredible. We saw We saw Pacific Sailfin Tangs displaying their large dorsal fin, a very shy Regal Angelfish hiding in its hole, the incredibly designed Achilles Tang which is dark black with vibrant orange markings on its tail and back. The vibrant Striped Surgeonfish that looks like an artist went crazy and not a real fish. There are so many bright colors and weird shapes it really is hard to capture with words (and with no underwater camera anymore(curse Panasonic!) – words are all we have!) It was a very pleasant snorkel and we're told that the reef we went on is not very good compared to other places around here!

We also got to Anchorage Islet, the one motu people are allowed to visit. It is where the ranger station is located and a gathering spot for the boats. There is the Suwarrow Yacht Club (a ramshackle structure with lots of flags signed by cruisers), many palm trees, a memorial to author Tom Neale who wrote a book about living on Suwarrow as a hermit for many years, and a small building with lots of posters of the local fish, whales etc. and a book exchange. Across the island on the windward side is "Shark Bay" and a giant "Danger No Swimming" sign. You could instantly see why! Many, many sharks were circling in water that was barely deep enough to hold them. It is here that the rangers feed the sharks daily with the remains of their fish cleaning. So we won't be swimming there!

We'll explore the island more over the next week or so. Last evening (Friday), we had Harry and Anthony, the two rangers, over to Astarte for a dinner. It was a good chance to get to know them and learn more about this incredible place. When we asked them what they would like for dinner – the answer was anything but fish! They are sick of fish and chips, fish curry, fish stew, fish chow mien, fish and rice, grilled fish....they listed every fish making style possible. And at dinner, we learned why! It seems, they have been waiting for their supplies to come since they arrived here. They are supposed to be getting a refrigerator along with the frozen meat they purchased in early June. It has not yet arrived, and they actually think it may never arrive! So they are making do with lots of fish and local coconut crabs as well as some tinned food. They generosity of cruising boats also helps as there are regular (almost daily) potlucks on shore. The rangers usually provide some fish and the cruisers bring lots of additional dishes to share. They did seem to enjoy a non-fish feast aboard Astarte – complete with a decadent filled chocolate cupcake dessert.

We enjoyed learning about them, the islands, their country and life in this place. It was a memorable evening. We mentioned that the Olympics were taking place in London right now, and it made us realize how remote this atoll really is. They didn't know, and yet their interest in what was happening at the Olympics was intense. They wanted to know how the various countries were doing. We didn't have many details (other than what Kathryn shared with us). We also know its the Olympics because many of our regular "readers" and writers have been silent for awhile. Everyone must be hooked to their TVs!

We get whales – you get synchronized swimming!

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