"Our relationship with whales can help us to see ourselves more clearly..."
To take an audience below the surface of the sea and into the wonder of the oceans, and to bring them face to face with some of the most extraordinary and mysterious life forms which share our planet is a unique and engaging experience. But to then , in the silence of the moment, to bring them face to face with themselves is a privelage and an opportunity, for it helps us to ask the question of how we see ourselves as part of a wider living universe, and, in these times which hold the potential of such profound change, what it means to be human.
Each year, during the time of the twin constellations, when Orion is lying on his back in the dipping west, and across the vast celestial dome, Scorpio with his red Antares heart is rising in the east, I set out on a journey across the mountains to the edge of the sea, for the time of the twin constellations marks the return of the great ocean travellers.
For months they have followed invisible pathways across the vastness of oceans, and from the clifftops I scan the surface of the sea, searching for the first signs of a blow, for this then signals a return of the whales to the bays of their birth, and for me, the sign that another turn of the year has brought upon winter and with it opportunities to sit quietly and spend with these magnificent gentle ocean giants.
from 'Journeys in search of the whale' 2016
What began as a scientific research project and environmental awareness programme slowly shifted when I started to see how our relationship with these mysterious mammals of the deep can help us to see ourselves more clearly, for how can you confront the dichotomy of those that seek to save the lives of whales stranded on a beach with those that set out with the intention of killing whales with a horrific brutality without starting to look closely at who we are as human beings.
To spend time with the whales at the edge of the sea is an extra-ordinary encounter and privelage, but over time I have also come to see that it is in our relationship with these gentle giants of the oceans that we can learn more about ourselves.
This was the gift that was born of the many hours in the studio sculpting Sacred Ocean, for it led me to seek a better understanding of the dichotomy between those that come together in the shared wish to save whales stranded on a drying beach, and others that kill them with a horrific brutality. Sacred Ocean 2008
Sacred Ocean and the Great Whaling Debate
Our relationship with whales can help us see ourselves more clearly, for the dichotomy between those who feel an affinity with these majestic mammals of the deep, expressed by the very human response to whales stranded on a beach, compared to those who treat these sentient beings as a commodity and fire explosive-headed harpoons into them, shows us our potential for empathy or cruelty, two divergent actions at the opposite ends of choice.
Journeys across the Great Divide
To engage the young mind is to embark upon a long-term vision for the future, and so Journeys across the Great Divide was created and presented to groups of learners at the monthly gatherings of Camp Africa, a non-profit organization that sought to offer learners from previously disadvantaged communities a chance to explore the world beyond their neighbourhoods. This talk travelled from the depths of Antarctica, following the migrating whales to their wintering grounds off the Cape coast, into the miracle of the Cape Floristic Kingdom and its unmatched diversity, and along the pathways of the stars, encountering the primary southern hemisphere constellations and the world of celestial bodies.
Public Displays and Educational Materials
Noel’s extensive array of scientific illustrations, artworks, observational knowledge, whale-watching and research experience have been translated into numerous public displays, educational materials, signage and booklets. These have included the visually-compelling display in the Hermanus Whale Museum, the Enviro-Expo at the Hermanus Whale Festival, and teachers training manuals and workshops.
Windows on the Oceans
The De Beers Oceans of Africa Species Panels
Commissioned in partnership with the Two Oceans Aquarium and sponsored by The De Beers Group, these twelve panels introduce southern Africa’s most frequently observed species of whales and dolphins by combining original scientific illustrations, paintings, hand-written text and identification notes in purpose built mounts and frames. They are on permanent display in the Two Oceans Aquarium.
The IFAW Whale Walk
The IFAW Whale Walk
South Africa has been recognised as one of the premium land-based whale watching destinations in the world, with thousands of visitors traveling to these shores each year to experience unforgettable close encounters with many of the mysterious mammals of the deep. Top of the list are the Southern Right Whales which come very close inshore, not to mention the Humpback and Bryde’s Whales. Over half of the world’s cetacean species can be seen in southern African waters, so the Whale Walk was created as an opportunity to enhance these unforgettable encounters with observational and identification boards placed sensitively along the coastline, first in Hermanus, before being rolled out around the country.
The Whale Show and other stories.
The Whale Show and other Stories
To slip below the surface into the world of those mysterious ocean travellers, the whales, offers us a glimpse into some of the most extraordinary life forms which share our world, and invites us to re-look at our blue planet home. These stories are easy to tell, for as we enter this azure world where fifty-ton mammals become weightless, it is as if we too become released from the boundaries of our bodies and enter a realm of the imagination, at play with the dolphins or listening to the haunting songs of the humpback whales, of ancient melodies which are heard not in the ear of man, but in the soul of humanity.
Where art meets science - the story behind the stories
From scientific journals to educational materials, field guides and clifftop signage, fine art exhibitions to books, sculptures and paintings, Noel’s whales and dolphins have become world recognised for their scientific accuracy and artistic precision, but what is less known is that all of this work is based on over thirty years of dedicated research, with the clear aim of creating a definitive set of scientific illustrations of the world’s elusive cetaceans.
Morphological mapping is a process which Noel pioneered in the mid-eighties in order to achieve this aim.... brought together various diverse disciplines in a quest to create the most accurate scientific illustrations available and began with the Heaviside’s Dolphin, a species endemic to the African west coast of the Benguela current ecosystem, commissioned by Dr Peter Best of the Mammal Research Institute, University of Pretoria on behalf of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission. This was the first published scientific illustration in the world of this elusive and little-known species. The subsequent publication of Noel’s illustrations in scientific journals has given his research international recognition.