There was something so incredibly special – if not a tiny bit terrifying – about being in the open ocean, just feet away from two large humpback whales. I watched in sheer amazement, awe and joy as these majestic mammals danced, played and flirted together in the sea; putting on an Oscar-winning performance, just for us.
We were on a half-day guided whale-watching tour in Mo’orea and were very grateful for being part of a small group of six, which was perfect for our tour.
Dolphins and Whales Spirit Adventure was the tour company we used
Every year from June to November, humpback whales migrate to French Polynesia, travelling 3,800 miles from Antarctic through the Pacific Ocean to the warmer waters, mainly off Tahiti and Mo’orea. They come to mate, rest, fast and, for the females, it’s the perfect temperature to give birth, as the environment in the Antarctic is too cold for their calves.
When we arrived at our first pit stop we saw half a dozen other tour boats milling around, with clusters of people hovering in the water, all hoping for whale sightings. My heart sank; it looked like we were going to have to share this epic experience with other groups.
We waited as our guide got the intel from his counterparts on the other boats. The whales had been resting 20 metres underwater for about half an hour, so were due to surface shortly to breathe. Whether it was the sheer number of people waiting, or the fact that the water was reportedly cloudy under the surface, but our guide decided this sighting was not for us and instructed the captain to start the engines and our boat retired from the scene. I heaved a sigh of relief.
Whale breaking the surface
It was an hour later that we saw our next whale, and we had all but given up on finding them. But we spotted two adult humpbacks just in front of us – and our luck was unbelievable as, this time, we were the only tour boat around.
Tail slapping the water
Our guide instructed us to get kitted up with our masks, fins and – for the nervous snorkeler like me – they thoughtfully provided floatation devices to hang onto in the water.
He talked us through the essential whale etiquette, which included staying together in the water and as close to him as possible, no free diving and we were not to make any loud noises or splashing. The splashing part was more than a little difficult when I tried to launch myself off the side of the boat – unlike our whale friends, there was nothing graceful about my tail slapping in the water!
The whale tail slaps down as Skipper edges closer
Using my fins and floatation device, I kicked hard to keep close with our group and, as we neared the whales, a male and female, I was rendered speechless by their sheer gracefulness.
Along with the adrenaline, a mix of emotions coursed through my body, elation, wonder, exhilaration and love as I observed these large mammals and ambassadors of the ocean at such close quarters. They eyed us up, even coming close enough to lightly nudge Fergus, before putting on a 20-minute performance; playfully tumbling together, rolling on their backs and slapping their tails.
Back on the tour boat, there was a feeling of euphoria; we had just witnessed and shared the most magical encounter with humpback whales.
Taking a breather
Our tour culminated with a few more stops to swim with turtles, black-tip reef sharks and sting rays. This gently brought me back down to earth as, while it was also amazing to mix with other creatures of the sea – even stroking a sting ray (under careful supervision of our guide) while a shark swam up to me – it didn’t come close to our private performance of dancing whales.
A green sea turtle
Skipper swims with sharks
A black tip reef shark
To have had the opportunity to swim up close and personal with such majestic creatures as humpback whales was incredible and beyond our wildest dreams.
Top Five Humpback Whale Factoids
Humpback whales are easy to spot because of their colouring; dark on top and white underneath
Their tail, which can be up to three metres wide, moves up and down and is unique by its shape and colours
The length of the average adult male is 13 – 14 metres (which is as long as our catamaran). Female whales are slightly bigger at 15 – 16 metres
They weigh between 28 to 36 metric tons
Humpback whales live for about 50 years
Our tour was with Dolphins and Whales Spirit Adventure, who have over 26 years’ experience in organising unforgettable boat tours in Mo’orea. Their guides are friendly, attentive and ensure the marine wildlife are treated with respect in their natural environment. http://www.dolphinsandwhalesspiritadventure.com
A waggy whale tail
© Two Drifters Travel