On the same day as the attack on
Japanese invaded the Gilbert Islands as an important strategic staging post, occupying them by 10 December 1941. On 20 November 1943 the US Army and 2nd Marine Division landed on Makin and Tarawa, initiating the battles of Makin and Tarawa, in which the Japanese were defeated.
Chapter 27 - OFF COURSE 150 N, 1550 E Gilbert Islands, Pacific Ocean
the three main groups of humpbacks which summer in arctic waters, the
western pacific herd navigate from the rich feeding grounds of the
Aleutian islands past the east coast of Japan to the Philippines for their
Fishermen looking for big rewards position themselves to the east of Japan in the path of migrating
whales to pick off easy targets one by
one. Whaling offers an irresistible opportunity for rich pickings in a
centuries old tradition of fishing as a necessary supplement to
agriculture, where only about 15% of Japan is useable for crops.
dealt the 'Suzy Wong' a fatal blow, Kulo was now swimming way off course away from
her normal migration route, part driven by panic and partly in a deliberate attempt to throw off
hunters. Kulo firstly headed south east to Hawaii hoping to meet with the central pacific
then still confused, tried to resume course partially by heading south
toward the Caroline islands, then swung a few more degrees east toward the
At this point in time the trailing solar boat racers out of Hawaii have been at sea for several days on a heading to take them south of the Gilbert islands on a south-westerly course heading to the equator and eventually the Torres Strait. Unknown to the solar pack, they are heading into the right vicinity to meet up with the stricken whale who is en-route to Solomon islands in a very confused state. Unfortunately, they are so far behind the Elizabeth Swan they will not come close enough to be of any assistance for another day or two.
Standing as high as possible in the rear helm position of the Swan, stood John Storm, straining through a pair of old Carl Zeiss binoculars, looking out to sea ahead, he used the ssb radio to broadcast:
“This is the Elizabeth Swan calling anyone, We’ve just passed the Gilbert Islands heading north west. Is anyone out here and have you seen a big whale. Over”.
He switched to receive, with a click on the mike button. The radio crackled intermittently, but otherwise remained silent. John picked up a smaller intercom microphone fixed to the helm bulkhead, and holding the send button, called Dan.
“Hi Dan, you there?” Click. After a few seconds.
“As ever skipper.”
“Keep an eye out dead ahead, I’d like to save
this whale if we can.” “ Me too skipper.”
silently the Swan’s hull cut through the deep blue waters, it’s
motors powering it effortlessly at a fast cruising pace. Some fifteen miles
west Kulo Luna was running out of energy, her wound
draining her as she leaked an unmistakable scent, as a beacon to hungry
predators. Sharks can sense blood in seawater in minute quantities. They
can also sense when an animal is in trouble and an animal in trouble is a
meal in the making.
large great white arrived from below to swim up in a wide elliptical orbit
around Kulo. Soon another came and then the third. The three large predators
circled faster. Every now and again one would swim close in to Kulo and
scrape its coarse skin along her, tasting her. The skin of the great white
is actually made up of thousands of tiny scales shaped like miniature
triangular teeth. The sharks were so preoccupied with their examination
that they did not detect the object, now six miles away, bearing down on
them. Nor would they have
cared had they noticed, simply because almost nothing deters a shark that
is preparing for a feast.
though, had noticed. Even in her weakened state, she was curious as to why the object was so quiet. It was
obviously man made because it gave off a subtle whine and was bouncing
sonar echo signals that she could hear faintly, but somehow the object moved without much fuss and made her feel comfortable. She also realised
that her new found serrated toothed companions were none the wiser. She
involuntarily let out a loud underwater howl as one shark lunged at her.
In riposte Kulo thrashed the water with one large flipper, dashing the
shark to one side. She became more animated slapping her tail to alarm the
sharks, which worked all the while she had the strength. But her strength
had left her from the bleeding dash to a safe distance from the Japanese
fishermen. She recalled the
pain from the harpoon as it sliced through her soft blubber and bounced
off her brawny spine. Her back was on fire.
Yet still Kulo grew more curious about the vessel making haste toward her, straining to recognise the sounds. Was it another whaler? That would be the end of her for sure. Then another shark lunged and she dived below the waves in a show of defiance, curling down twenty metres then twisting back up to the surface for a high speed broach. She fell back into the sea sending tons of white froth sideways, also jetting salt into her wound. The pain was excruciating. The sharks gave her a wider berth for the next five minutes swimming in a one hundred meter circle, but they knew she was getting weaker and they would wear her down. It was just a matter of time. Time. Time during which the Elizabeth Swan was getting closer.
Kulo began to sing a rumble of a message. She lay still in the sea trying to recover some strength. She could hear the signals from the silent vessel getting stronger, estimating that it was now four miles away. She watched the sharks closely, reacting to any move to swim closer. Her reaction signaled life was not about to be given up just yet. Still the sharks swam in and out, daring the whale to strike. The next twelve minutes would be the most frightening of her life. Life that was rapidly leaving her, and she knew it.
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