the winter of 1999 a southern right whale migrated from
the cold waters of Antarctica to a Sydney beach. The
appearance of this species of whale off Sydney caused
much interest with hundreds of people lining Cronulla
beach and watching the whale frolic some 200 yards offshore.
At the time I had a letter of permission from the National
Parks and Wildlife to get within the exclusion zone
and film wild whales on SCUBA at close range. The second
morning of the animals arrival gave me the chance to
film a whale I had never been exposed to before. I took
my gear and video camera down to the beach where a life
saver boat transported me out to the whale.
My first thoughts were "god how big it is"
the whale was over 40 feet long , a large adult female
that was probably expecting. Its stomach was well extended
and from the footage already shot from helicopters the
experts believed she was about to give birth.
My hope was to film the whale giving birth, a world
first in the wild. I entered the water and swam to the
whale that was cruising the surface with an occasional
tail splash. When I came to 20 odd feet from the huge
animal I descended to about 30 feet and continued by
approach. At about 15 feet the whale turned and faced
me then swam towards me very slowly. The huge head of
the whale came within a few feet before the animal dived
down to swim along the bottom at around 40 feet. I followed
the whale filming as I went. She turned again towards
me this time pushing me slowly through the water as
if playing. I literally tumbled down her back.
Again and again she pushed me, other times cruising
up to bring her head side on to look at me. I took a
close up of her eye with my still camera around my neck.
The photo made the front page of a Sydney news paper
"The Leader" To put it simply I was having
a ball with this playful giant.
For three days I swam and filmed and played with the
whale until she began to do something unusual. She began
to rub her belly against the sand bottom. This she did
slowly with her tail bent in an upward direction. I
took this behaviour as a sign that she may be getting
ready to give birth to her calf. The concept that I
may be the first man to film a southern right whale
giving birth in the wild excited me greatly. I swam
behind the whale and then swam under the huge tail hoping
to film the birth. The whale continued rubbing her tail
against the sand with me kicking as hard as I could
to keep my position under her tail. Then she decided
to surface for air and brought her heavy tail down crushing
me against the sand bottom.
The initial impact squeezed all the air from my lungs
and cracked two vertebrae in my back. As the whale surfaced
I was left on the sea bed gasping for air, not knowing
if my lungs and spine were completely crushed or not.
All I wanted to do ,was to breathe. I lay on the bottom
for over 15 minutes before I could breathe with ease.
After the dive I felt bruised with a very sore back.
After an xray, it was found the whale had broken two
discs in my back.
See photo taken by David Ireland of the Southern White
Whale at Cronulla Beach.
For more information about David please click