‘One breath, she was gone’: A rare close encounter with a blue whale

A fisherman captured footage of a majestic blue whale after a rare close encounter off the coast of Wellington.

Matt Ringot​ was casting about for kingfish late on Tuesday morning, somewhere between Mana and Mākara, when the whale breached the sea surface behind him.

“It was literally 15 or 20 metres away from us,” the 33-year-old fisherman said.

“Obviously, we all turned around. We saw this massive back – this massive thing – and suddenly she’s gone. One breath, she was gone.”

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The blue whale is known to be the largest animal in the world, weighing up to 150 tonnes. And, like the wily, old fisherman from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Ringot soon pursued the great marine mammal.

“I don’t want to disturb her. I didn’t follow on my jet ski, I put up the drone.”

At a height of more than 100 metres, Ringot’s drone surveyed the surrounding ocean.

The search seemed ill-fated at first – five minutes passing with no luck. As Ringot turned the drone back to home base, he spotted the whale, like a “tiny, little white dot” on the viewfinder.

“Suddenly, she pops up and takes a couple of breaths.”

From a great height, the blue whale looked like “a tiny, little white dot”.

Matt Ringot/Supplied

From a great height, the blue whale looked like “a tiny, little white dot”.

In that time, the whale had travelled about 1.5 kilometres, he estimates.

Unlike Hemingway’s fisherman, Ringot intended no harm – and even took precautions, he says, flying overhead at a safe distance (for the edited video, the footage is zoomed in).

He managed to capture two shots – amounting to about 90 seconds of footage in total.

“When we saw it the first time, we were not able to know what kind of whale it was … The drone made it possible.”

A pygmy blue whale photographed by drone off the north coast of East Timor.

Potenzo Lopes/The Age

A pygmy blue whale photographed by drone off the north coast of East Timor.

Once returning to shore, Ringot reported the sighting to the Department of Conservation (DOC). “If someone else sees it somewhere else, we can potentially connect the dots.”

Sightings of blue whales in New Zealand are uncommon, though not unheard of.

According to DOC’s website, a blue whale population lives in New Zealand waters for part of the year. The size of this population – or its precise migrations – are not known.

Two subspecies of blue whale exist in the Southern Hemisphere – the Antarctic blue whale and the slightly smaller pygmy blue whale.

Ringot moved to Wellington from France seven years ago, and works in visual effects. He quickly fell in love with the ocean and natural environment of his new home.

“I keep telling people: ‘only take what you need, don’t take too much fish’. You don’t need to take 10 or 20 fish.

“In my eyes, this is a paradise. Seeing this big mammal just reminds me of that.”

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