National Geographic : 2009 Mar
Ken Brower writes on the natural world and lives in Berkeley, California. Flip Nicklin, a leading whale photographer, lives in Juneau, Alaska. In Acapulco Harbor, amid the white yachts, R.V. Paci c Storm stood out: a working boat, black hulled, a West Coast trawler in a previous life, reborn now as a research vessel. ere were bigger, more opulent boats in the harbor---fortunes are invested in the white yachts of Acapulco---but this 85-foot trawler, with its grim mien and high black bow, was the ship for me. Asked to choose, from all this eet, the vessel to carry me on a month-long cruise in pur- suit of blue whales, I would not have hesi- tated. As Flip Nicklin and I passed our gear up the trawler s ladder and stowed it in our cabin, I felt an almost savage contentment. Call me Ishmael, if you like, but whenever I nd myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I have spent too many con- secutive months at the computer keyboard, in arti cial light, like some sort of troglodyte, self- imprisoned, pecking out my living, I account ithightimetogettoseaassoonasIcan.I jumped at the assignment on Paci c Storm. As the voyage was to depart on the third of January, I made three New Year s resolutions: I would try to be an a able shipmate. I would strip all the blubber from my prose. I would refrain from making a single allusion to Herman Melville. Did I mention we were a er a white whale? It s true. In the eastern North Paci c popula- tion of blue whales---the group that summers mostly o California and whose migration we were following south---there is a white blue whale, maybe an albino. An inflatable skiff from Pacific Storm had satellite tagged this whale off Santa Barbara four months before, but his tag, number 4172, had ceased trans- mitting a few weeks after implantation, and now his whereabouts were a mystery. e sun- synchronous, polar-orbiting TIROS N satellites could no longer track him, but he was one of the animals we hoped to see o Central America.