Posted by: Carol | September 3, 2009

Whale Watching Day 2

CBParker_D700_20090902_Tonga-157We’re back in Vava’u after a not very fun sail from Niuatoputapu. We left Monday morning as the forecast indicated that was our best window for wind direction and strength in a weeklong forecast of continuing windy conditions. Beating into the wind, choppy swells, wind consistently between 25-30 knots – Mike compares the ride to being in a washing machine. After our bouncy but uneventful 18 hour overnight passage we pulled into Port Maurelle in the early morning for a lazy day anchored in quiet waters, catching up on our sleep, washing the salt water off the boat, and going for a snorkel.

Wednesday Mike and I went out again with Dive Vava’u, a first rate diving and whale watching operation. Windy as usual – same 25 knots stirring up the chop. We made 4 or 5 attempts to swim with the whales, donning our snorkel gear and waiting on the swim platform at the aft end of the boat, then sliding in (no splashing allowed – scares the whales away) and taking off in a 50 yard sprint to close with the whales. Four or five repeats of that scenario is good aerobic exercise in the rough water! On our first attempt we did see the whales for a moment – a mother and calf who would have been happy to hang around except for their male escort who rounded them up each time and drove them off.

Eventually we gave up the swim attempts and went looking for surface activity with a great deal more success. Good views of a female and calf – she laying on her side waving a flipper in the air and splashing it down on the water’s surface – according to our guide that is female behavior to attract a male. Flippers (pectoral fins) on a humpback whale are exceptionally long, up to 17 feet or about 1/3 the length of the whale’s entire body, therefore often referred to as wings.


We also had really good luck with breaching whales – I missed seeing the pair that breached in tandem – only saw the resulting huge splash. Another whale breached one time not too far from the boat, and then we lucked on an exuberant performer who breached 7-8 times, affording good photo ops. It’s a bit of a challenge to photograph breaching whales as they erupt quite unexpectedly out of the water – but when they repeat it ups the odds of pointing the camera in the right direction at the right time.

The whale in the breaching photos has a yellow patch under his throat – it is a colony of barnacles. One theory about why whales breach is that it is an attempt to dislodge parasites like those barnacles.

We plan to continue to go out whale watching on the premise that the more opportunity, the better the odds of success. However today (Friday) is socked in gray and drizzly – no wind and calm water for a change, but not very inviting. So I think we’ll just stay on Raven catching up with the internet and other mundane matters.

Photo Tip:  Double-clicking on any photo will open it up as an enlargement.







  1. Great shots! Enjoyed them very much!!
    Finally a little rain and grey here!! Hooray!
    Love to all!!

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