cetaces20_dauphins_-_credit_irt_-_laurent_beche_dts_12_2015.jpgDauphinsDauphins© Laurent Bèche
© Laurent Bèche

An encounter with dolphins and whales

ON REUNION ISLAND

A unique team of researchers dive with the dolphins and whales, to study the way they communicate. This has never been done before. We joined them in the water! Fabrice Schnoller is a man who is passionate about his mission. He is looking to collect new, impacting data for dolphin and whale research. But he is neither a scientist, nor an engineer. His team developed an underwater 3D camera with state-of-the-art microphones to record the complex exchanges coming from all directions between these incredible marine mammals. They are able to distinguish which animal is making which sound thanks to the cutting-edge technology.

In sending divers into the ocean without noisy diving equipment or submarines controlled remotely, they can record the most intimate moments with incredible precision, something that was previously impossible to do. Thanks to assistance from researchers at the Université de Paris, the team hopes to prove that these intelligent creatures actually do speak to each other with their own language.

Over time, maybe they could even decode this language and understand what they’re saying !
Fabrice is a local of Reunion Island and he took us on an encounter with the whales and dolphins in the Indian Ocean.

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Matthew

Dolphins swimming around the bow of our sailboat

It was a family of long-nosed dolphins and there were around 20 of them. These mammals seemed to love the large profile of our wooden sailboat, more so than the other boats, so they came to swim near us.
I had the perfect spot, on a net near the water, at the front of the bow.
Some of the group had started swimming in front of me and I was able to take a superb photo. Because of the other boats around us, we weren’t able to swim with them.
It’s not so easy to swim with dolphins or whales, there are rules to follow. You should never back them into a corner and expect them to stay next to you. You have to wait for them to approach you and show their curiosity (and to be trustworthy enough) to be able to swim with them.

Diving with whales ?

Even though I was so happy to see dolphins this close, I really wanted to swim with them. Or better still, swim with a whale. But that sort of thing takes time and requires a lot of patience.
Generally, it takes around three to four days, which is the time needed for the animals to get used to the boat and dare to approach it. Remember that not so long ago, we were still hunting whales. And some people still do. They are afraid of humans.
After changing around a few visits I had planned, I had more time on the island so I asked Fabrice if I could go with him and try this experience again. He agreed to take me on the research boat with his team.
His “team” was made up of four excellent swimmers, all of them French and three of them also diving experts. Just after meeting them I feel like I’m on another planet.

An encounter with the ocean’s giants

We set off into the rough sea in search of a whale’s water spurt or splash. Fabrice produced an underwater microphone to be able to hear any significant clicking or singing from a mammal that could be heard from several kilometres away.
Whales are the biggest animals on the planet, and also the noisiest.
We didn’t hear the cry of a whale, but we did quickly catch a glimpse of a huge tail out of the water, splashing about further out at sea.
That’s when things get complicated. The challenge is to show this magnificent creature that we don’t want to harm him.

We can’t win them all

Unfortunately, this whale did not want to swim with us. We managed to get close enough for the whale to see us, in the hope that curiosity would bring the animal closer to swim with us.
But it was just the beginning of the whales season and at this time, they are still quite wary of boats.
After showing us its tail once again, the whale dove into the depths of the ocean for a break underwater. The waves were getting bigger and the clouds darker, so we decided to sail into calmer waters and go for a pleasurable diving session.

Documentary about whales

Fabrice and his team are trying to get funding for a new research expedition and for the making of an original documentary film. Imagine a realistic 3D experience where you can watch sperm whales communicating and interacting with each other, all around you, from the comfort of your sofa.
There are only a few days left now until the request for investment deadline is up, and participants will receive some great gifts, such as a copy of the film or even a chance to join Fabrice and the team on the expedition!
Go to my blog: http://expertvagabond.com/dolphins-whales-reunion/