In the March/April 2013 Horn Book Magazine, our editors asked Nicola Davies about facing a dangerous animal herself — and got not one, but four stories. Read the review of Deadly! The Truth About the Most Dangerous Creatures on Earth here.
Horn Book Editors: What’s the most dangerous creature you’ve ever encountered?
Nicola Davies: My first job as a TV presenter was to swim with a captive killer whale. The whale’s trainer had never swum with her, and seemed a bit nervous, but it was my first job and I didn’t want to seem like a wuss. Plus I had a good feeling about this whale, so I just dived in. She seemed really pleased to have company and she carried me on her back round and round her pool. Then I had to swim to the side of the pool and talk to the camera. Whilst I was doing that, she swam toward me with her mouth open and all those enormous teeth showing and closed her jaws on my arm.
I can’t tell you why, but I wasn’t even a tiny bit scared, and not at all surprised that she wasn’t biting me, just very gently grasping my arm and pulling me back into the water to play with me some more. But I think the cameraman and the producer almost had heart attacks.
I am the world’s biggest wimp and try to keep myself out of any sort of dangerous situation. But I also love seeing animals in the wild, so sometimes by mistake I’ve come close to animals that are dangerous. I was in Kenya a long time ago, travelling in the Nakuru Game reserve in a Honda Civic because I couldn’t afford to hire a 4×4, and almost drove into a buffalo in my teeny little car. Buffalo are responsible for more deaths in Africa than any other animal — they are huge, with enormous horns and absolutely foul tempers. I reversed faster than a racing driver at the start of the Monaco Grand Prix.
Four years ago I was working in the Sea of Cortez on a small research boat with my old friend whale expert Prof. Hal Whitehead. We were studying sperm whales but when it got too rough we anchored off a small island where there was a colony of sea lions. Although the water was pretty chilly I wanted to swim with the sea lions, so I got in the water. I stayed in for about twenty minutes until I got blue and the sea lions had shown they weren’t interested in swimming with the funny creature with the arms and legs. As I got out Hal — my “friend” — announced that all the time I’d been swimming there had been a large bull shark sitting under the boat watching me. Bull sharks are one of the species of sharks known to attack human beings. It was the last time I went swimming off that island.
Baleen whales are gentle giants, but being giants they can hurt you without meaning to if you aren’t pretty careful around them. I was working on a research boat in the Indian Ocean studying blue whales and sperm whales. We came upon a group of blue whales, which was very unusual as they are pretty solitary most of the time. I was standing on the prow, camera at the ready to take fluke shots of their tails as they dove. A blue whale’s tail was right in front of me when the helmsman switched from sail power to engine power. The noise startled the whale and instead of its tail slipping gently under the water it slapped it down with a giant bang. I felt the tail go past my nose and it missed the front of the boat by centimeters. Had it hit us it would have snapped the boat like a twig and we would have gone down in seconds, hundreds of miles from land. In that moment I really understood that blue whales are the biggest animals on the planet.