15 September 2010 | Vava'u, Tonga
When I saw a woman on some travel show swimming with Whales in Tonga in 2005, I knew it was something I wanted to do. In the confusion of wondering what to do after high school, I even remember writing an email to 'Whale Swim Adventures' asking for a job with them doing anything. I was even willing to scrub toilets. I never got a reply.
As luck would have it, I arrived in Tonga during Whale season five years after I sent that email.
When Lynn from La Graciosa said she had met this nice guy called Dave who does the whale swims and she could organise for us to go out the next day, I said I'd love to. Jamie decided not to come as he had stuff to do.
We left bright and early the next day and I was positive we would have a good swim. As the hours wore on I became a little frustrated. It seemed that none of the whales wanted to play with us, they all dove down when the saw us coming. Dave said he thought there might even be a submarine in the area causing the Whales some distress.
It was still a nice day. Dave told us some very interesting thing about whales- for example that the males of one Island group all sing the same song. Their song is extremely complex with not only separate notes but also chords. Their song this year goes for about 12 to 13 minutes and they often repeat it over and over again. There is a man in Tonga studying the Humpback whales here and a few weeks ago he took a recording device down 25 meters to where a male was singing. He was within 10 meters of the whale and his recording device was picking up the song at 160 decibels. Our eardrums burst at 180.
The female whales have to guard their Calves against not only sharks and other ocean predators but also against some other males. To provide more protection, often a nursemaid whale is swimming with a mother and Calf.
Anyway, as the day was coming to a close, I became a little disappointed but I thought 'Well at least I have tried. I can't say to myself that I didn't try to swim with them.' Dave also looked a little upset that we didn't get a chance to go for a swim and he wanted to stay out 'Just a little longer'.
Just as we were about to give up, we heard a whale spout behind us and we turned around to see a surfaced calf. We slowly followed it so as not to frighten it and eventually we were close enough to jump in. We all slipped quietly into the deep blue water and began to swim in the direction of the cub. Dave was ahead and he put his arm up to signal that he had found the Whale. As I approached, I saw the mother. She was sitting about 10 meters down. She was huge, majestic, incredulously beautiful. Then just to put the icing on the cake, a little head popped up from behind the mother and we got full view of the calf a new born 2 tonne baby. The baby turned towards us then surfaced 4 or 5 meters away from. We could see every detail on its body, its long fins, the remora hanging off it's stomach. Then it swam back down and gave it's mum a nudge.
What happened next was the best part. Both mother and baby slowly turned around and rose to face us. Us looking at them and them sensing us with their sonar, determining our shapes, acknowledging us. Then, gracefully, they slowly turned and swam away. Needless to say, we all came out of the water with smiles stretching from ear to ear.
That night, I lay in bed for hours, replaying every moment from when we jumped into the water, trying to remember as much as I could so that I will never forget it.