Changing Planet

Gabon Expedition: Humpack Whale Sightings

Mike Fay’s exploration of Gabon’s untouched wilderness led to 11 percent of the country being named national park land. This inspired Enric Sala to explore and help protect similarly pristine areas of the ocean around the world. Now the two explorers go back to the beginning to explore the murky waters off the coast of this African nation.

We continue our dives under the rigs. Amazing amounts of fish. Today we decided to film the last of the humpback whales on their way south. There are a few thousand humpbacks that come up from Antarctica every year to breed off the coast of Gabon. Usually they are gone by now but we are discovering that there are still hundreds around. Lots of them are females that have babies and so they are probably slow. We saw a baby today—it was tiny. Crazy to see all these giant whales making their way through the network of oil wells.

We saw whales several times but these guys are all swimming fast south at this point. I got one picture of one tail.

Now we are heading south too, to dive the rock off the border between Gabon and Congo.

A humpback’s enormous tail flukes rise above the horizon. (Photo by J. Michael Fay)


Read All Gabon Expedition Posts

Mike Fay has spent his life as a naturalist—from the Sierra Nevadas and the Maine woods as a boy, to Alaska and Central America in college, to North Africa and the depths of the central African forest and savannas for the last 25 years. He has worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society of the Bronx since 1991. In 1996, Fay flew over the forests of Congo and Gabon and realized there was a vast, intact forest corridor spanning the two countries from the Oubangui to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1997, he walked the entire corridor, over 2,000 miles, surveying trees, wildlife, and human impacts on 12 uninhabited forest blocks. Called Megatransect, this work led to a historic initiative by the Gabonese government to create a system of 13 national parks, making up some 11,000 square miles (28,500 square kilometers). In 2004, he completed the Megaflyover, an eight-month aerial survey of the entire African continent. He logged 800 hours and took 116,000 vertical images of human impact and associated ecosystems, many of which are now visible on Google Earth. In 2008 Fay completed the Redwood Transect, a new project to learn more about the redwood forest. He walked the entire range of the redwood tree, over 700 miles. Since then he has participated in the 2011 BioBlitz at Saguaro National Park, and is a regular team member of fellow NG Explorer Enric Sala's Pristine Seas Expeditions, recording the life and land above the waves.
  • Catherine H

    YEAH!! for the Humpbacks! What a glorious day it must have been for you ~~just seeing the tail on the horizon — I would have been SO EXCITED! I think all whales are the most fascinating creatures–but there is something about the Humpback that I find almost mesmerizing–maybe it’s their songs… Thanks for the news and wonderful photo

  • Kathy

    I find my self very lucky because I have been able to a humpback whale in the ocean, it has t be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. We were off the coast of NJ, USA.
    I would love to be able to swim with these beautiful giants. I adore whales of all kinds and find them fascinating.

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