Whale Tales: Barnacle’s Kelp Karmacoma
The annual Humpback Whale migration, aka The Big Whale Romp Race to those in the know, takes participants, (*cough* competitors), from Antarctica up to the southern coast of Australia, then up the east coast shelf superhighway to the breeding grounds located in Queensland and NSW. It attracts around 8000 entrants each year, an event growing in number by 10% each year. It’s getting bloody popular.
Last year’s winner, Barnacle, actually there are no ‘winners’ because there’s no prizes.
But in this day and age of supporting everyone as a winner, we’re going against the grain and calling him a winner anyway. Well, because he was first.
Back to Barnacle – a seasoned migrator. He’s finished 10 of these 10,000 kilometre events in the last 10 years.
At this moment in Hervey Bay, he was being consoled by friends in the clear Tiffany’s teal coloured water, slumped in the 28c balmy salty tropical sea. He looked forlorn. He felt like a complete loser.
In Barnacle’s state, he’d be listening to Karmacoma by Massive Attack.
On last year’s slow return trip from the rest stop in Hervey Bay back to Antarctica, travelling straight south along the coast, auto-pilot direction set for Pirate’s Bay on Tasmania’s south-eastern Tasman Peninsula, right now that distinct moment was flooding over him in the black cloak of inner darkness.
Back then, the three of them were cruising along, hanging out in the Spring sunshine, enjoying the subtle warm current that was coasting them by Tassie’s Wineglass Bay. In the slip of a heartbeat, a pod of three tuxedo-dressed Orca circled his sister’s new calf, Sassy.
In huffs and tail slaps, huge aerial body-slams, and the smashing of flukes all around, they couldn’t fend off the strike of these black-tied Hell’s Orcas.
Sassy, exhausted, could not fight on. Such youth given to the sea so early in life. The whimpers and last whines echoed along the coast, disturbing all whom collected the sound waves under the surface.
It was from that moment, Barnacle, in trauma, found veganism.
Seeing the tragedy front and centre, it rocked his being to the core. Every of the millions of tiny organisms that he’d consumed to this day, every one flashing before his rostrum in a series of murderous finalities.
From here, the leathery liquorice-like strands of giant kelp became Barnacle’s sole diet.
It was a decision met with disdain by his fellows. Curious they were about this new diet and how he’d continue to thrive and bulk up again through the Antarctic summer. They did agree that the abundance of kelp vegetation, strewn all along their path, manicured gardens and farm rows of it, endlessly satisfied that kind of plant-based obsession he so enthusiastically promoted.
So it was, through the summer, Barnacle would duck dive under, mouth agape, and let the strands scoop up fettuccini-style in his half-bowled jaw.
Clasping down, it took some practice to tear the 20m long yellowy-kelp spaghetti from the rocky reef. Such a resistance did the hoof-like roots glue themselves to the coarse surfaces beneath. No petty match for his 37-tonne bulk though and the 5.5m wide tail that assailed the cool Tassie waters, thrusting him to the surface with a gob full of Southern Ocean vegan carbonara.
This new fad, they’d called it that, Barnacle persisted with it in the face of their parades of filter feeding bouts, watching from afar their gorging mindlessly on supermarkets of defenceless krill and plankton.
It wasn’t all beautiful and insta-inspiring for long though. Hard as he’d tried to remain faithful to the cause, even influencing the others to try a kelp strand or two, at times the pressure of maintaining vegan vigil became tiring. At times it meant adapting, adopting a kind of five and two approach to life. When no-one was looking that is.
Five days he’d plunder the kelp beds, sometimes even zooming around the surface, showing off his kelp fettuccini dance ala fungi, pirouetting with ribbons flaring across the glistening glassy seas.
But then, he started by convincing himself that two days out of seven he could enjoy a couple of cheat days. He’d earned it, he implored to his other inner voice. The one that seemed more frequently chattering these days.
The bait balls and plankton on those clear and calm sunny days, the way they sparkled and shone in all their silver brilliance, it was too much. His deep DNA forced him to swim straight through the massive swirling schools, scooping up pots and bucketloads of those tasty morsels. The pleasure was ecstatic. But the come-down and the guilt destroyed him some days, more than the pain of Sassy’s memory even. So, he’d chastise himself and revert to another dedicated 3-week bout of kelp liquorice, before succumbing to temptation again, and the five-two curse.
Emerging at the start line for this year’s migration, some barely recognised him. The former powerful and stately fat winner, he’d leaned down so extravagantly. The fold lines in his jaw no longer a nice accordion set of pleats, the girls told him he was all knives now, but he resisted what they jokingly but seriously taunted, mostly because he had no idea what they were trying to say. He felt damn fine, and damn terrific.
In reality, if the icy mirrors of the bergs could reflect back all of his 16-metre long body, he’d see a gaunt, nice folks might call it svelte looking Humpback, in perfect light trim for a fast and torpedo like attack on the 10,000 kilometre transit ahead.
Shredding the 15% loss in body weight from the typical 40-tonnes down to 34, he felt lean and mean. But the others questioned his endurance. Just how much kelp could he stuff down along the way up to the breeding grounds to retain his skinny 34 shape? Could he still win?
The others would lose their usual three or so tonnes as they gave up feeding and fasted on the route, but that was normal between the months of May and August as they journeyed. They were comfortable with this, it’s just the way it is, and why they hammer the smorgasbord of the summer bulk-up by the icebergs.
Floating there forlornly in Hervey Bay, Barnacle sunk into a vegan-induced carb-free slumber. For the love of Sassy, he mulled. He did it for her. But he’d lost. In two ways now. Maybe three.
Resting in delirium, in his now relatively tiny 31-tonne shrivelled and shrunken body, suddenly a smile rose up and spontaneously his jaw opened wide and he sucked in all the water he could, feeling every one of those tiny crustaceans tingling and crackling like magic gum and pop rocks about his tongue.
As his buddies feasted about him in reckless and buoyant stupor, “Fat is the new fit”, he’d heard them sing.
Polkadots and Moonbeams. A young woman descends the stairway to the beach as the sun sets and the moon rises. Looking on is a Ladybug. A fiction short story.
The story of Lucy in the new novel “The Octopus and I” by Erin Hortle tells the story of a colourful character living on the Tasman Peninsula in South-Eastern Tasmania, as she lives through the recovery of breast cancer.
Padi Pros Oceania were kind enough to interview me about freediving and my keen interest in it and published this article. Click through to read the article on the PADI Pros' Site.
Visit the Shop For Unique Products
Select from every day in-house designed products featuring local marine life, or recommended affiliate items.