ENCOUNTERING a mighty sperm whale is a magical experience. But in this case, it was tempered somewhat by a rarely seen defence mechanism: emergency defecation.
Sperm whales are the largest toothed predators in the world, so what have they got to be scared of? Here it was pesky divers buzzing around them, taking photos.
Canadian photographer Keri Wilk was sailing off the island of Dominica in the Caribbean, hoping to film these gargantuan creatures, when he spotted one and jumped in for some close-ups. The whale approached Wilk and his three colleagues, pointed downwards, and began to evacuate its bowels. To make matters worse, it then started to churn up the water. “Like a bus-sized blender, it very quickly and effectively dispersed its faecal matter into a cloud,” says Wilk.
Defensive defecation has been recorded in pygmy and dwarf sperm whales, which, as their names suggest, are diminutive compared with their cousins. But this is perhaps less surprising, given that they have natural predators. Wilk is unaware of any other reports of sperm whales’ emergency excretion.
Despite what you might think of being enveloped in what Wilk describes as a “poonado”, he cherishes the moment. “I’ve experienced lots of interesting natural phenomenon underwater, all over the world, but this is near the top of the list,” he says. “As long as you didn’t take your mask off, you couldn’t really smell anything. Taste is another matter…”