Tonga is one of the only places in the world where you can (legally) swim with humpback whales so the first thing we did upon arrival in Neiafu was to arrange a tour with Beluga Diving. We were told to be at the dock at 8:45am on Thursday morning but at 7:45am we heard someone knocking on our hull. It was Johnny in a big aluminum boat, wondering where we were. Late already, but not our fault! We scrambled to get our things together and left without even a sip of coffee.
Paying for swimming with whales doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to be able to swim with them. You may or may not see any. No money back. We were all getting a bit worried three hours into our tour as we’d been spotting whales, but none of them were stationary enough for us to jump in with.
Finally the guys received a call on the VHF. Another boat had located a female humpback with her calf. We sped over to the location and hung back while the other boat spent some time with her. It was hard to make out the whale… until we realized that she was hanging upside down with her tail sticking out of the water.
The mother whale seemed perfectly calm with our boat nearby and her behavior and the behavior of her calf didn’t appear to change with us in the water. Her movements were slow and gentle. We took turns swimming off the boat and the calf became more and more curious. On Will’s last swim she came within five feet of him.
Encountering these beautiful creatures in the wild was not frightening at all, only awe-inspring and completely unforgettable.
Ninita and Orkestern took some amazing video footage with their GoPros’ which I will post when I have the chance.