Two plaques hang in our guest bathroom, one of a humpback whale surfacing, another of a baby humpback swimming atop its mother’s back. They are both signed by the artist, Sheri. Like most of the art in our home, this piece has a back story.

P1040744 Humpback Whales in Tonga

Humpback Whales in Tonga

Gunter tells the story on page 148 of Sailing the South Pacific:

The Eye of the Whale: A Moment of BlissBy Günter

Our guide spots a mother humpback whale with her calf; she orders the driver to approach them slowly. Then at the spot where we had last seen them, the four of us on this excursion, along with our guide, take to the water with our snorkeling gear. With my face down, I do not see anything right away. Suddenly, I see something right below me—big and white. Then I realize that what I am seeing is the mother on her back, letting the calf drink her milk. In the next moment, the calf begins to surface very close to me, just a few arm lengths away. It comes up and looks at me with a large black eye as large as a dinner plate. I am mesmerized. I cannot move.

I feel intimately connected to this animal in a very friendly way. I have a very strong urge to touch it. So I swim a few feet toward it and reach out with my arm. That is too close for the whale’s comfort! The calf rolls on its back and paddles away from me with a few powerful strokes of its large flippers. In doing this, one of its flippers hits me on the right shoulder. It feels like being slapped with a big piece of wood. I’m not injured, but the spell is broken. I become concerned that the mother will surface and toss me into the air. However, she doesn’t; she is a gracious creature who forgives my intrusion.

The Moment of Bliss in which I felt deeply connected to this fellow animal is gone. What is left is a scolding from the guide. I had violated the rules of engagement in the Whale Watcher’s Guide. I feel like a little schoolboy being reprimanded by the principal. But she is right. It is a very dangerous thing that I did.

Back in the anchorages, we find a houseboat with a sign saying ARK GALLERY. We motor over with our dinghy. We tell Sheri, the artist/owner, about Günter’s experience. “Then you will want a souvenir of that experience,” she says. “Here’s a set of plaques that I painted of those whales. One of the humpback surfacing. The other, as you can see, of the baby swimming above the mother.”

I love them!  There is no need to negotiate. I pay the price. I know exactly where they will hang in our home.

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