Most of the media coverage coming out of our recent trip to Dominica has centered around our host Andrew Armour’s relationship with Scar, the friendly male sperm whale that seems to seek out and enjoy human interaction.
I’ve received a number of emails, comments and other communication about Andrew and Scar…primarily reflecting two things: curiosity and concern.
It’s entirely natural to be curious. It’s not often that one comes across examples of sperm whales playing with people (or people playing with sperm whales for that matter).
It’s also natural to be concerned, since sperm whales are the largest living toothed animal on the planet.
To augment the information in the media…
I have been in the water with sperm whales on three separate trips spanning six weeks or so in total duration. I’m certainly not as familiar with sperm whales as I am with humpback whales, but based on what I’ve seen, I think it’s reasonable for me to say that Scar is an unusual case.
Most sperm whales I’ve come across have been busy…feeding, procreating, travelling, socialising, resting…doing the things sperm whales normally do. As a consequence, most sperm whales are not in the habit of taking time to interact with people. There’s no benefit in it for them.
It is in this context that Scar is interesting. As I alluded to in an earlier post, Scar seems to play a lot…by himself, with the younger whales, and sometimes with people. He appears to play substantially more than the other adult/ sub-adult whales.
Watching Scar, I felt like he was sort of “in his own world”. It’s a difficult thing to pinpoint, but he didn’t seem to behave or interact in the same manner as the other whales in his group. He often seemed to be doing his own thing, such as rolling around in circles by himself while other whales rested together in a group.
This is pure speculation on my part, but if Scar were human, I would guess that he has a mild case of autism or something similar. It could, of course, just be his personality. I don’t think there’s any way to be certain.
In any case, adult male sperm whales usually leave family groups and head off to higher latitudes in the northern hemisphere (and lower latitudes in the case of the southern hemisphere) to lead mostly solitary lives until they’re ready for breeding.
Scar is overdue for a life of independence. At around ten years of age, Scar is mature enough to have left the area by now. Since he hasn’t done so yet, it’s reasonable to expect him to do so soon.
Of course, it’s possible that Scar somehow chooses to remain in the waters around Dominica, in which case…he’ll be really unusual. Time will tell.
Andrew Armour, who was our guide during the trip, has known Scar since the whale was a baby, having first come across him when the whale was injured at a very young age. Scar has apparently approached boats from the time he was a little leviathan and allowed people to pet him.
Sensible people would argue that it’s not wise to make physical contact with a large carnivore in the water. I would normally agree. I must admit a significant degree of concern and scepticism when I initially heard about Andrew and Scar.
But after seeing Scar for myself, and seeing how much he seems to enjoy human interaction, my scepticism and concern is significantly moderated. Scar approached all of us, and would not let us get away without stroking him. He closed his eyes and wriggled with delight upon contact (yes, I know that’s ascribing human characteristics to a whale, but picture a puppy squirming with enthusiasm and you’ll get the idea).
It was an amazing experience. Once again, I find myself struggling to convey an experience for which words are simply inadequate.
I would never recommend anyone rush off to try to pet any animal underwater. In fact, I would advise against anything of the sort.
But I also recognise that life is not black-and-white, and that exceptions to rules are often the most interesting things we come across.
Andrew’s relationship with Scar is real. Or perhaps more accurately, Scar’s penchant for human contact is real.
Note: Photographs taken under permit.