New Idea (Aus) – Unknown 2007

Isabel Lucas’ New Love

When she first joined the cast of Seven’s popular Home and Away series three years ago, teenage blonde beauty Isabel Lucas admits she was pretty much thrown in at the deep end.

Joining the hit series straight from school, Isabel found herself on a steep learning curve. But she quickly established herself as one of the series’ most popular stars with her character Tasha Andrews falling in love, eloping, marrying, getting pregnant and then finding herself torn in her affections after she narrowly escaped death in a plane crash.

Along the way, Isabel picked up a Logie award for the Best New Talent as she adjusted to life on her own after she moved from Cairns to Sydney.

And Isabel also found love in the arms of another Home and Away cast member Chris Hemsworth before the couple decided to go their separate ways, then got back together again before deciding to call it quits.

But with her latest love Isabel has found herself in really deep water. For the first time Isabel went diving off the coast of far north Queensland with Jeff Pantukhoff, founder of the Maui-based Whaleman Foundation and the minke whale research team of The Undersea Explorer.

“It was so amazing – a truly magical experience,” Isabel told New Idea of her days spent swimming with the friendly minke whales, in what is one of the largest breeding grounds for these mammals off the coast from Port Douglas. “One minute we were keeping our eyes peeled and seeing nothing, then they’ll just pop up alongside the boat, when you least expect it,” Isabel says. “They are such remarkable, beautiful creatures – and so gentle.”

For Isabel the opportunity to share the waters with these highly intelligent creatures and see close hand the interaction they have with each other was an unforgettable experience “They’re very curious. You have to respect their environment and let the whales initiate any encounter.”

Isabel was fascinated by the sounds – the three rapid pulses followed by a longer trailing note – that the whales make under the water and the explosive bubble blasts the whales release from their blowholes as they’re surging through the ocean in bursts anything up to 12 knots.

The dwarf minke whale can jump from the water, like a dolphin. With their white shoulders and flipper base, the dwarf minke whales have a distinctive dark grey patch on their throat which is visible when they surface with a smooth arching of their back before diving down into the deep for up to 12 minutes.

One of the delights of her time out with The Whaleman Foundation for Isabel was swimming with the dolphins. “They are so playful – you really feel at one with them,” the beautiful blonde Home and Away star maintains.

But Isabel says the discussions she had with Jeff and the rest of the team made her aware that as powerful and gentle as these great mammals are they are still under great threat.

“In the US everyone thinks the whales have been saved after the success of the “Save The Whales” Movement of the 70’s. But now dolphins and whales are even more at risk from toxic pollutants such as DDT, dioxin, and mercury; deadly high intensity sounds produced by military sonars and airguns; overfishing, with some 300,000 dolphins and whales lost every year – drowned after they become entangled in fishing nets. Jeff explained. “And now we have an expanding whaling industry with pro-whaling nations making up the majority of nations at the International Whaling Commission for the first time in decades threatening to overturn the moratorium on whaling.”

While it is the humpback whale that’s the poster child, the minke whale is the primary whale that is now being hunted by Japanese, Norwegian and Icelandic whalers. Since the worldwide whaling moratorium went into effect back in 1986, over 25,000 whales, mostly minkes, have been killed.

“The whalers see them as the cockroaches of the sea,” says Jeff who remembers being hooked on his fascination with whales and dolphins from the time he saw his first whale pod off the Californian coast, when he was only six years old. “They claim they’re reproducing at such a rate they’re overrunning the oceans and eating all the fish. But it’s just not true, our government (US) used to be one of the most ardent defenders of the whales – but now our current administration is actually negotiating with the pro whaling nations, The Australian government has been more consistent in their opposition to commercial whaling. But the message we’re trying to get across is if you think whales are being saved, nothing could be further from the truth.”

The big issue for Australia is that Japan has announced they’re going to start hunting the humpback whale later this year – the very same one you could be seeing along the Australian and New Zealand coastline. The same goes for the minke whales off Port Douglas.

“It’s a very precarious situation which is why we’re mounting a large worldwide campaign called “Save the Whales Again!”says jeff, “It’s the Minke whales who are the main target of Japanese, Norwegian and Icelandic whalers. Last year they announced they were doubling their quotas which mean they will now slaughter over 3,000 minke whales a year”. On top of that Japan announced it would start killing endangered fin and humpback whales in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary.There’s a real fear that the world may be on the brink of the end of the whaling moratorium and a return to large scale commercial whaling.”

Isabel says she finds it “very disturbing that the slaughter of whales is still happening. `If more people would take the opportunity to see how magnificent these creatures are – they wouldn’t be able to shut out that this is happening”.

“I was simply transfixed when I was out there. It’s a whole other world”.

“When you look at the size of these whales – and they are so calming – and curious. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to harm them”. Isabel remarks.

For someone who had never gone snorkeling or scuba diving before Isabel says she is now a total convert and has been enthusiastically relating her experience to her fellow Home and Away castmates.

“I have a pretty full on schedule at the moment so I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to do it again.”

But Isabel has a message for the scriptwriters should anyone contemplate a storyline that has Tasha, once she’s escaped the clutches of the cult that has her somewhat preoccupied right now and anyone else from Summer Bay venturing up to the Barrier Reef or further north and taking time out to swim with the whales and dolphins.

“I’ll be the first with my hand up for that script,” Isabel says, happily.

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