Posted by: Carol | September 6, 2009

Whale Watching Best Day Yet!

CBParker_D3_20090906_Tonga-217-Edit-Edit-EditSunday morning after the big party, we went out on our final guided whale watching trip – as it turns out saving the best for last. Our guide this time was Allan from Whale Watch Vava’u, based out of his Mounu Island Resort and the pioneer of commercial whale watching in Vava’u. He picked us up off Raven from our anchorage near the Full Moon Party, picked up the rest of the swimmers from the resort, and headed confidently out to connect with a trio of whales.

We had an exhilarating day swimming with whales and were very fortunate to have had the opportunity. Most of the whale watching operations are booked solid at the moment, many with their boats taken up by private charters, and we have been scrambling to find space for ourselves. This boat was actually on charter by a Scot named Colin Baxter who therefore had exclusive rights to the boat and was extremely kind in allowing us to come aboard. Colin is an acclaimed professional landscape photographer and serious humpback whale aficionado who has been to all around the world building a portfolio of humpback photos for an eventual book.

Allan took us straight to a mother, calf and escort and we played with them for hours – sharing time with the resort’s other boat, and giving the whales some time to themselves as well. His skill at predicting their behavior without harassing them made every swim a success. In addition he educated us with information about whale behavior. Mother and escort would lie quietly 10-20 meters below the surface while the baby made multiple trips to the surface to breathe and to play, checking us out on each pass. Later in the day he got very playful and started breaching repeatedly. Occasionally the group would move on and relocate, at which point the boat would pick us up and reposition for another whale encounter in a new location.

The Tongan humpback whales have migrated here some 6,000 miles from the Antarctica, spending June through November in tropical waters calving, mating, and raising their offspring until the youngsters are strong enough to make the long trek back to their southern feeding grounds. While here the adults do not eat at all. A mother whale will lose some ten tons, one third of her body weight, during her tropical sojourn. Humpbacks are the most acrobatic of whales, exhibiting exuberant breaching, tail lobbing, and pectoral slapping behavior. They are also noted for their vocalizations and whalesong. Distinctively colored with white markings on the underside, they can be individually identified by the pattern of the markings on their tail flukes.

Late in the day Allan spotted the blow of another whale in the distance, so we said good-bye to our family of three and went off to see what new experiences awaited us. This whale was solitary, quietly lying on the bottom in some 10 meters of water near shore. While we swam above him he lay quietly for up to 20 minutes, then would rise with no apparent effort to the surface, take four breaths, and sink down again for another nap. Allan explained that whales sleep with half of their brain, one eye closed, while the other half remains awake. Because they breathe by conscious effort, unlike our automatic respiration, they need to be partially awake at all times.

Here are a few of the photos of the day, although I look forward to refining them with Photoshop when I get home. One photo, not particularly a good one, shows Mike snorkeling behind the trio of whales – giving you an idea of the contrast in size between a human and a combined total of some 60-70 tons of whale flesh!

PHOTO TIP:  DOUBLE CLICK ON ANY PHOTO FOR AN ENLARGEMENT

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Responses

  1. This is so awesome! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Gorgeous shots, Carol. The bubble shot is especially unique. You are truly an expert photographer. Can’t wait to see them after Photoshop processing.

  3. sounds like a ton of fun! what cool pics.

  4. Mike & Carol,
    Malo e lelei.
    Thank you for the site and posting. Very flattering but appreciated.
    The tsunami fortunately had little impact here other than massive tidal surges over a very short space of time. High and low tides initially in 3 minutes and then decreasing – pretty amazing to watch. Mala and Reef Resorts lost their jetties in the tide run but that was the only damage I have heard so we were lucky. Not so 200 miles north at Nuiatoputapu. Absolutely devastating in both the short and long term.
    We now have had nearly double the number of new born calves sighted this season which is a healthy sign.
    Take care and thank you for thinking of us
    Kind regards,
    Allan and family


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