Blog about animals
Selected the best cow in Germany
Fishing ban proposed near Rockall after rare scientific finds
Life and death on the riverbank
Baboon shot dead after escaping from Knowsley Safari Park
Birdwatch: Peregrine falcon
Iceland's fin whales are endangered. Stop this bloody cull
The pitfalls of elderly dog insurance
Valley where Edward Carpenter, gay rights campaigner and socialist, walked
Green groups warn government of national parks hunting backlash
Demand for ivory destabilising central Africa
Dog walker found neighbour trampled by cows, inquest hears
Cat stands for election in Mexican city
I hear some hip cat's running for mayor in Mexico. That gives me an idea
Wader chick fever grips birds and spotters alike
Philippines destroys five tonnes of elephant tusks
The Dwyfor is surely one of the loveliest of Welsh rivers
New to nature No 107: Typhochlaena costae
How to beat the midges this summer
Controversial herring gull cull gets green light
Whaling's day in court is a sea change for conservation
Australia censures Japan for 'scientific' whaling
The young red deer stags were on their hind legs boxing, just like hares
Our garden's blackbirds started their nest-building early this year
UK wildlife and nature hit hard by erratic weather
  Whale watching season is back - but how close is too close?
The whales, those dark airships, are back. We are entranced. It is enough to stop in the day, send our minds far – somewhere, out there, are whales. A shivering thought. The imaginary territory of the ocean can be populated with the idea of whales again, just as whale drolleries once menaced voyagers from the corners of their incomplete maps. Those pictograms seem bizarre to the modern viewer: whales with cat faces, whiskers and ears, collared and sprouting tusks. Once upon a time, there was a real possibility that whales might become mythical animals, long since driven out of the sea – and though we have a better notion of their appearance today, part of the enthrallment is their annual disappearance.

Whales bring with them the message that there are places we have restrained ourselves from encroaching upon. In a shrinking world, we are captivated by those things that stay out of touch. Whales drag in their wake the mystery of unexplored, unseen zones; deep animal hotels in the ocean. We are eager to get closer to that, when we can.

The whales stay out on the horizon. Scanning the dazzle, you’ll need binoculars to pick out the tiny uprushes of air, as if someone had pierced the surface of the ocean with a pin. Better yet, take a chartered tour-boat. So when a whale turns and careens in our direction, when a whale comes barreling through the breakers, the thrill is that the wild faraway has chosen to draw up alongside us. We like to reflect on our smallness then, flanked by this small planet of mammal.

How close is too close? For boats and other vessels (and “vessels” includes surfboards) government regulations dictate 100 metres. 200 metres if the whale is joined by a calf. Jetskiers must stay 300 metres away, at low speed. Airspace above whales is restricted also –helicopters cannot dip closer than 400 metres. Free swimmers have the most leeway. They can drift within 30 metres of a whale, so long as multiple swimmers do not attempt to box it in. Of course, the whale may have other ideas. A whale with intent moves much faster underwater than we ever will; 30 metres is a dimension the whale can inhabit with one swift motion.

Yet when people get closer to whales, they might discover not untrammeled nature, but traces of our human world, inexorably contained within whale bodies. Today, cetacean scientists are diagnosing whales as ambassadors from our industrial world with alarming frequency.

In March this year, a sperm whale was found dead on Spain’s south coast with a stomach full of flowerpots, clothes hangers, hosepipes, bits of mattress and nearly 30 square metres of plastic greenhouse covers. Whales are turning up with heavy metal contaminants in their bloodstreams, or with diseases contracted from livestock transported over the ocean. Whale beachings – once an encounter with wild nature – now lead us to thinking about manmade byproducts mixed into the surf, and to the sonic environment our heavy shipping and naval operations have generated. We are not small. We are not quarantined from the places whales live.

How close is too close? Though whales might try to hurl us back to the land, we can’t get out of the sea.
'Wild' animals in travelling circuses benefit no one
The intoxicated world of the spotted flycatcher
Fishing quotas can be redistributed to favour smaller vessels – high court
Madagascar battling worst locust plague since 1950s
A broody sparrow meets his match
Climate change is happening too quickly for species to adapt
The weird and wonderful world of the naked mole rat
Australian woman seriously injured during Spanish bull run
Spain's endangered Iberian lynx brought back from brink of extinction
One man and his sniffer dog help tackle Germany's hidden drug problem
The hotel that only takes dogs
T rex tooth found embedded in prey, restoring dinosaur's reputation
Bog cotton covers the summer Peak District moors in snow
Lifelike after death: the intricacies of a taxidermist's craft
The six-spot burnet moths complete their transformation
Research on animals in UK rises by 8% to exceed 4m procedures
Animal testing – it's time to talk about it again
A pair of lithe animals are tumbling across the grass within feet of me
New to nature no 109: Anochetus hohenbergiae
England's ceremonial mayors eschew fur to support animal rights
Birdwatch: Corn bunting
Madrid declares war on plague of raccoon and parrot invaders
Snow leopards and wild yaks becoming 'fashion victims'
Horn seizure prompts rhinos warning
Threatened seabirds 'neglected' in plans for Scottish marine protected areas
Los Angeles campgrounds closed after plague-infected squirrel found
Only when I look down at the last second do I see it. I recoil instinctively
China's wine boom of little profit to giant pandas and small farmers
Let's not martyr the white-throated needletail to the anti-wind cause
Grasshopper breeder up for design award and educating western palates
Spanish national park could lose Unesco status over illegal boreholes
Dog mauls boy at primary school in Northern Ireland
Our dog walks are punctuated by the corn bunting's jingling ringtone
End in sight for painful branding of semi-wild moorland ponies
New to nature No 108: Carlia decora
Penguins support gorillas as biscuit makers respond to palm oil threat
Measuring carbon age in ivory could help combat poaching, study shows
How to survive a seagull attack
A walk by the river triggers memories of a bygone age
Whales flee from military sonar leading to mass strandings, research shows
Down among the grass stems, a ball of recently hatched orb-web spiderlings
Owen Paterson vows to rid England of bovine TB with badger culls
Gassing of badgers considered in plan to eradicate TB in cattle
Visitors to the Pamplona bull run have blood on their hands
Bats: they've never had it so good
These dew ponds have been on the Downs possibly since medieval times
Australian bushman claims to have footage of legendary night parrot
Secret badger shoots pose 'a risk to public safety'
Cheshire police seize dog believed to have killed Pomeranian
Whale watching season is back - but how close is too close?
Plan to ban wild animals in travelling circuses 'goes too far'
Morrissey donates Channel 4 payout to Peta campaign against foie gras