Sunday, August 11, 2019

Humpback Whale Encounter

Last year I was quite disappointed about never having a chance to swim with the whales. Twice I went out on all-day whale excursions with no success. This year I finally had an opportunity to swim with a group of whales in Tonga's Ha'apai group.
Well hello there!
On the day of our whale excursion the water was a little bit murky - so I could only see about 50 feet ahead.  Approaching them it is a bit unnerving.  You are swimming towards them slowly and cautiously, waiting for their black figures appear. I was worried about getting too close.  Finally, I could see two large forms in front of me. It was a mother and a juvenile. The mom was hanging upside down and the little one was touching her.   The mother's tail was about 7-10 ft from the surface as she hung there, seeming totally uninterested in us humans.  It almost seemed she was napping.

The little one went up for air then approached me.  I was suddenly filled with emotions I can't describe. It was surreal - like time had stopped.  He came pretty close to me which allowed for great photos even in the murky water.  He swam right by, turned, and took a breath. Then he circled back around for another look!  I was ecstatic. The young whale was small compared to the mom but still 3 or 4 times bigger than me. He was so cute and full of energy, rolling around and slapping his tail. I was surprised that his hide wasn't all shiny and new. His skin had lichens and scratches all over it and he had deep, crinkly lines around his eyes. He looked like an older whale, but just smaller.  I noticed also that the baby takes many more breaths than the mom.  I'd say for every 5 he took, she took one.  The whole experience is kind of a blur now, but the baby definitely surfaced more frequently.  

After the second pass the little guy went back over to his mom and snuggled in close. By this time she had turned in my direction and they were both heading my way. I hurriedly switched my camera to video mode to get close-up video of them as they swam by.  But, I forgot to hit the start button! [Doh!] I have no photo or video of them passing right by me but the whole experience was a special gift.  It's one of the coolest experiences I have had.
The mom hanging in the water and the baby swimming around her.
The little guy is doing a fly-by.

He started rolling back and forth while slapping his tail.
Shaking his booty!

Starting his roll. 

Coming at me upside down! 
Heading up for air again. 
After that swim was over we all got back in the boat to look for more whales. Another group was spotted shortly afterwards in the same vicinity so I assumed it was the same whales but it turned out to be another group with a mom, baby and male escort. The boat approached slowly and waited to see if they would stick around. After a short time we got in and started swimming. Again I felt uneasy waiting for the looming large black silhouettes to appear. As they came into focus it looked like they were laying on the sandy bottom about 30 ft deep. There were waves breaking on nearby reefs, putting coral and sand in the water which is bad for getting good photos.
I found them like this, laying on the bottom.
The first thing to come into view was a huge black tail!
The baby is under the mom and the escort is on the left.

The escort 
The baby was tucked under the mom. I was making whales sounds trying to get it's attention. The baby came over!  (In spite of my alluring whale song)  Just like the last encounter, the adults seemed very unimpressed by people but the baby was curious. As the baby approached and its mom came alongside. That was pretty cool! It's hard to say but I think this baby was smaller than the other one and less animated. It is so endearing to see how much the babies touch their mom. They swim in a spiral around her body going under then over from head to tail.

When the baby was swimming around me the male escort rolled over on the bottom, turning his big white belly with black spots upwards!  It reminded me of a dog belly.

Bye Bye......
Come back soon!
This year when we leave Tonga I won't feel like I missed out on a vital experience.

To view all my whale photos from this year and last click Here


  1. What a fantastic adventure. Kudos to you for making the time and sharing this!

  2. That’s so cool. I’m so glad you got to experience that.

  3. Thanks! It was so magical. It something you would really love.