It’s late morning, Friday 21st August 2009. Raewyn and I are sitting on the front deck of our falé at Fafa Island Resort, off Nuku’alofa. It’s overcast, but the sea in front of us is glassy and a coconut has just thumped to the ground, interrupting the solitude.
With 11 other guests, we had disembarked earlier this morning from 10 days on the M/Y Nai’a cruising in the Ha’apai Group of islands. We went there to watch humpback whales. The trip was better than we could ever possibly have imagined.
Nationalities of guests onboard included German, Belgian, Dutch, French, Japanese, American and us two Kiwi’s. The crew was Fijian and the divemasters were European. It was overcast most of the time, not hot, sometimes cool, quite windy, choppy seas, no risk of getting sunburnt.
We only did one scuba dive. We were too busy swimming with the whales. If you ever catch us sitting quietly in a corner with a semi-smile on our face and a tear running down a cheek, don’t be concerned. We are far away reflecting on the overwhelming experience we have just had.
Above water, we have seen an individual 15 metre 45 tonne adult launch itself into the air more than 20 successive times, whilst other adults in the vicinity have also been breaching time and again. The booming sound of their bellyflops punctuated by the admiring gasps of the onlookers. We have seen tail flukes, pectoral slaps and aggressive challenges from competing males. We have been seen at close quarters by whales spyhopping. Pushing their heads vertically out of the water to gaze at us with a dark enquiring eye.
But what we saw above water was not a patch on what was below.
One day, we spent almost seven continuous hours operating from a skiff, amongst many groups of whales. The skiffs are rigid hull inflatables from which we would slither, without splashing, head first into the water “like a seal”. Often we would be back in the skiff within two or three minutes. Sometimes we would be snorkeling for up to 10 minutes as the whales played around us.
Underwater, we have seen five tonne calves encouraged by their mothers to check us out. We have seen multiple adults cruising under or beside us to disappear out of sight only to return seconds later as though they needed to talk to us. What did they want to say?
We have seen adults stay stationary less than 20 metres below us, or hang vertically beside us, remoras swinging off them like pearl drop earrings. We have seen the sheer power required to launch 40 tonnes into the air, and we have been overwhelmed by the slow graceful beauty of contented mothers shepherding their calves. We have seen groups of adolescents twisting and turning in unison with each other, dancing to a silent symphony with the exuberance of youth. We have been enveloped by curtains of bubbles blown from whales that must surely have an incredible sense of humour. We have been so close, that the only way that we did not collide is because they did not want to hurt us.
We have listened to hauntingly mournful songs, and we have been filled with awe.
Dive Report by Geoff
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