“Oh my gosh, that is AMAZING! Did you see that??!” screeches the fellow lifejacket-clad woman to my right, as the occupants of the front side of our boat simultaneously whip out their cameras.
Phil and I struggle to follow her gaze into the choppy waves of the dark blue Pacific Ocean but it’s no good, the captain’s abnormally large head is in the way.
As he starts the engine up again, we sigh and resign ourselves to the fact we may not get to witness the longed-for sight of humpback whales frolicking in these waters, where they come once a year to reproduce.
The engine churns into action and we continue on to our destination of Isla de la Plata, off the south coast of Ecuador and dubbed the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” (perhaps slightly generously).
There we enjoy a lengthy hike around the island, populated mainly by Blue-footed, Red-footed and Nazca Boobies. Birds, that is.
It’s mating season all round in the animal kingdom and, along the trail, we regularly sidestep males or females fiercely guarding their small white egg with piercing golden eyes, or see them engage in the bizarre “dance” and shrill cawing ritual to attract a mate.
For no less than 15 days, the males periodically lift their wings and necks upwards before the object of their affection (which changes every couple of years. Typical).
Only after this point will the female consent.
His dance moves clearly having failed to impress, at one point a hopeful male picks up a bit of straw and drops it in front of his beloved, who haughtily turns around and waddles off on her giant clumsy baby-blue feet. Bad luck, mate.
Entertaining as it is, I can’t help but wish we’d seen some more whale action. After all, we’d endured a cramped 12-hour night bus from Quito to get to Puerto Lopez, the small fishing village from where the sight can be seen.
Apparently around 500 humpbacks gather in these warm waters from July to September, from their chilly feeding area in Antarctica.
We set out on our bumpy journey back to the mainland. As the island disappears out of view, I’m just about to congratulate myself on not having thrown up with sea sickness when the captain stops the boat and points animatedly out towards the horizon.
Suddenly a huge burst of water erupts about 15 metres away and, seconds later, a gigantic blue tail sweeps up into the air and crashes down upon the surface.
My mouth is still gaping when the giant’s head and first half of its bus-length body then surges upwards out of the water and smashes sideways onto the sea with a huge splash.
“That’s great, the whales are getting a bit more active now,” shouts our guide excitedly over the din.
“When the males do that it’s usually a sign of dominance to other males invading their territory. Or it can be a show of power to attract a female.”
We marvel at around ten other sightings of the incredible creatures over the next hour. Finally stepping back onto terra firma, I conclude that as impressive as the Boobie Bop was, the Humpback Hustle wins…fins down.