Not so Stinky Minkes

Posted on April 20, 2019 by Class Afloat Student, Tristan L.

Even since I hopped aboard, I always wanted a ship’s pet. Imagine a boat dog or a boat cat wandering around. This wish was immediately wiped from my mind the second I spotted my first dolphin. That’s the thing about Class Afloat, we have a sea full of the world’s most amazing species. I can tell you that nothing shoots up the crew’s morale like a spontaneous visit from our aquatic friends (other than pizza night).

Aboard the Gulden Leeuw, class comes first… most of the time. Today is another beautiful day in the Caribbean, and only one thing could make it better. During my global geography class, we heard Joe yell, “Whales!” Everybody in class lurched from their seats, scrambled over the tables and over each other, and were at the aft deck in less than 10 seconds. This was incredibly impressive for such a large amount of people. It seems that the “no running on deck” rule gets overlooked for these events, or else the teachers would probably be in trouble too. The excitement in the air is enough to make anyone happy.

Imagine 60 people at the aft (the back) of the boat, all huddled together hopeful to spot a whale far off in the distance. Today, our sea friends were much more curious. With “ouuuuu’s” and “ahhhh’s” from the crowd, two whales surfaced not even 20 feet from the ship! We could see their colours and sleek shape so clearly. Just like dolphins, they swam gracefully and effortlessly in the waves. They would surface with a wave than dip down under the hull and reappear on the other side of the boat. Sometimes they’d pop their heads out of the water or swim upside down under water, exposing their white bellies. Nate, one of the AB’s, said that he even saw one jump enthusiastically out of the water and land on its back.

Minke Whale
A screenshot from a beautiful video Austin took of a Minke Whale. 8-10 meters long; they swim with such elegance and ease.

We pulled out a whale identification book and hurriedly started flipping through it. Seeing the whales so close by made it easy to say they were minke whales. I remember our old whale-educated AB, Sammy, say that minke whales smell terrible. Often, you can smell them before you see them. This time, the minkes smelled better than we did (just the guys, it’s girls shower day).

More minkes appeared and put on a show. It was like Sea World, except sustainable, not cruel and in the actual sea. So not at all like Sea World actually. I love how we are able to appreciate nature without disturbing it. Marine animals curiously approach our boat, we never alter course to chase them. When we sailed into the Dominican-Republic last week, it was sperm whale mating season. Impressive whales appeared throughout the day causing excitement and happy smiles aboard. What wasn’t as great to watch were the small whale watching boats overflowing with tourists. They would constantly try and follow the whales as closely as possible, disrupting their elegant peace. Imagine if you were trying to mate and a boat full of tourists followed the entire time revving a loud motor. Privacy is key. It’s important to observe and not disturb. We have already done enough damage to their homes; the least we can do is be responsible visitors.

Sorry about that tangent, back to the minkes. After the best 45-minute performance, students started trickling back into class. Our new friends continued to be curious about the metal-bellied mamma whale we call home. They stayed for a large part of the afternoon; riding the waves and playing hide and seek. What a beautiful day at sea.

During our many journeys in the Atlantic, we’ve seen countless Common Dolphins, Spinner Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, Sperm Whales, Fin Whales, Pilot Whales, Minke Whales, jellyfish, turtles and more. For every visit, we drop what we’re doing (unless it’s an important sail maneuver), huddle together, and appreciate how lucky we are. We value experiential learning, and observing amazing marine organisms definitely classifies as such. Today’s events were added to my long list of amazing Class Afloat moments. The list just seems to get longer and longer.