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Eric Cheng's close encounter with the Sperm Whales off Dominica

The sperm whale is the canonical whale, its form immortalized by books and drawings centuries old. When you ask a child to draw a whale, it is likely that what will come out of her developing mind most likely resembles a sperm whale, an animal with a huge, box-like head and tiny pectoral fins whose evolution seems to defy logical explanation

Photo: Eric Cheng | Eric Cheng

The memory of my first sperm whale encounter is so visceral that I can almost feel myself there again if I close my eyes. As is common to most whale encounters, it wasn’t a particularly long one; the juvenile male merely drifted by slowly, effortlessly, turning on his side so he could stare at me with a tiny little eye before disappearing into the blue.

To him, I was probably nothing more than a passing curiosity—an awkward sack of meat wrapped in neoprene—but the experience was an overwhelming one for me, and I knew that I wanted more.