On the first day of October I had the privilege to swim with Humpback whales, in their natural habitat. It was AMAZING, truly one of the most memorable occasions of my life, and I hope that it will stay with me forever.
Very soon after we left Neiafu and reached the open water we came across an adolescent male, who was singing. I was fortunate enough to get into the water, and hear his song from above - the sounds vibrated through my whole body, it was truly incredible. Then he rose up from the depths, slowly, only metres away from us - breathtaking! He checked us out, and then surfaced. Seeing that - a whale surfacing only metres away from you, from the water - was simply fantastic!
The rest of the day was spent searching out other whales, and we saw over 10 in total, most of them single adults. We came across 5 "singers", individual males who were singing, either to attract a female or to mark their territory. Their sounds are just... I cannot describe it, except to say that it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
The final swim was with a whale which I spotted from the boat. He was sleeping, but singing at the same time - they do this because only half their brain sleeps at a time, to regulate their breathing. He was huge - about 15 metres long! After coming up for breath he went back down, and we lay flat on the surface of the water, watching him from above. After about 10 minutes he rose up, straight past us, and surfaced. The people in the boat got a tremendous view of his tail as he dived below again.
I initially had my doubts about the whole whale swim thing, not sure if the whales appreciate these intrusions into their space. But after seeing the way Dive Vava’u ran the trip it became apparent that the whales were in control of the experience. The guide has years of experience with whale behaviours, and can monitor signs of discomfort from the whale. If a whale moved away from us she could tell if it was travelling, if it was sleeping, or if it just didn’t want a bar of us. This left me feeling satisfied that we were in the hands of ethical operators, who had the best interest of the animals at heart.
Sadly, not all operators are as scrupulous. There are not as yet any laws regulating the industry, only Guidelines, which are not legally binding and therefore not adhered to by everyone. It is hoped by all those who do have the best interest of the whales at heart that a law will be in place by the end of the year, to ensure hefty fines for all those who intrude on the whales, and jeopardise this unique experience for everyone.