Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

Leading strategy? Vicarious rejuvenation. Post 3 of 3

 “The whales sing, not because they have an answer. They sing because they have a song.” —Andrew Stevenson

Endurance cropped with nameThere is no substitute for getting away from it all.

Displacement is a powerful rejuvenation technique.

For six hours on March 14th we forgot everything. We focused only on finding whales. I hope this story will “take you away” for a few minutes.

The power of adventure

This was the first whale-watching trip of the year for the Endurance, the official research vessel of the Bermuda Zoological Society, which runs out of the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo (BAMZ).

Every year in March and April, humpback whales migrate from the Caribbean to New England, the Maritime provinces of Canada, Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, and even Norway. They pause in Bermuda on their 5000-kilometre journey to rest and feed (sound familiar?).

We were fortunate to be joined by Lynne, a biologist from BAMZ and, at the last minute, at the invitation of Captain Nigel, by Andrew Stevenson, founder of the Humpback Whale Research Foundation. As we set out (and immediately forgot all of our daily stresses), Lynne told us what to look for (a mist, or “blow” on the sea as the whales come up to breathe), described common humpback whale behaviors such as logging (swimming along the surface) that we might see, and shared stories of previous sightings. Andrew noted that he had seen twenty different whales just the day before.

Captain Nigel let us know that our path would take us on almost a full loop of the entire island in six hours. As we headed east, he tried to manage our expectations: “Finding the whales is a bit ‘hit and miss’―naturally the whales move around so we might see some and we might see none.”

Uninformed optimism and conscious incompetence

We were still incredibly optimistic and scanned the horizon looking for anything that might look like a whale breathing.

Mid-March in Bermuda is winter. The ocean seems like a massive cauldron. Even on this beautiful day, the waves were easily 10 feet and rolled in lengths of 100 feet. The boat that seemed big at the dock became remarkably small. Yet we were undeterred.

One of the guests became increasingly seasick (known locally as “feeding the fish”), but we were glued to the deck on look-out. Andrew and Lynne made their way to the top deck and braved the sea spray for a better view. None of the rest of us were so brave.

The hours and the miles passed and we became a little worried. Was that a whale? Or just a wave? The eyes begin playing tricks with you when you want something so badly.

More time passed. The kids had a snooze in the cabin.

Suddenly initiated

About four hours in, Andrew called out, “Whale! 1 o’clock” (front right of the boat).

We all sprung into motion and crowded at the edge of the boat, straining to learn what a “blow” looks like.

There it was! Smaller than you might think, in the distance. Then a fin, then a second fin! Amazing.

Captain Nigel, half-in the cabin and half-out through the driver’s window kept look, steered, and adjusted the speed. “We have to pace them. We don’t want to over run them or scare them” Lynne explained.

We were breathless. Where were they?

Suddenly the ocean seemed vast again. They could be below the boat or a mile farther away. “They breathe every three minutes,” someone said. We waited and tried to time it. Did we miss the last blow?

There! Ahead! Again, Nigel sped up to get close enough to see but not close enough to scare them, or endanger us.

Wonderful. We watched them as long as they let us. We were hooked. Then they were gone.

We cruised around a while longer but it seemed those two beautiful whales would be it for today.


On the way back, I had an opportunity to speak with Andrew. He is a man who has repeatedly reinvented his life―you can read his amazing story here.

By my count, he has lived in eleven countries and it is easy to lose count of the number of his vastly different careers. He says he even has dreams of another country and another career.

The Humpback Whale Research Foundation, his current project, has catapulted humpback whale research: “By the end of 2012 we had obtained 673 fluke IDs, which compares to 145 Bermuda fluke IDs over the 40 years before this project began.”

In 2010, he learned how to film and produce an underwater movie. Amazing you say? Better still, It was an award winning production. If you can give yourself five more minutes, watch this clip from “Where the Whales Sing,” narrated by his daughter Elsa, then a precious six years old.

His advice to me? “Life is short. Follow your passion.” Sounds quaint right? Not so quaint, coming from a man whose own life is a testament.

Secondhand vacation

I hope that in sharing this little story you might experience a break―a little vicarious R&R.

And I hope that if you are considering taking a vacation to rejuvenate, this might be a tipping point.

And if you have any interest in whale watching, Bermuda, or anything else, I hope you will feed your curiosity.

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1 Comment so far
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Thanks for this. I have always wanted to go whale watching in Newfoundland and experience a different Canadian culture there. Maybe this article will be my tipping point! I enjoyed reading the link about Andrew Stevenson; due to illness, I find I have the need to reinvent my life and it is inspiring reading his story. Take good care and be well.

Comment by Michele Roach

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