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There are only two places in the world where you are allowed to swim with humpback whales - the Silver Banks off the Dominican Republic and Tonga. We really didn't know what to expect or hope for, as these are wild animals and that's a mighty big ocean.
We returned to the Nai'a (we had spent the first 10 days of our current excursion on her in Fiji, diving) for a 9 day trip of whale watching and hopefully, swimming with humpbacks. If anyone's interested in geography, Tonga has 3 main island groups, and we sailed around the middle one, Ha'apai, looking for friendly whales. Nai'a is the only liveaboard boat to have a license in Tonga, with the majority of licenses granted to day boat charters in the northern most island group of Vava'u. So, in essence, we had pretty much any whales we found to ourselves.
We boarded the boat and got settled in on the first evening, and then tried to sleep (fairly unsuccessfully) as she sailed north (for about 8 hours) from the main island of Tongatapu to the islands of Ha'apai. Sunrise wasn't until about 0700 (it's winter there). We'd have breakfast at 0730 every morning, before sailing back and forth between islands looking for spouts, signalling whales at the surface.
The first full day was pretty uneventful (compared to the rest of the week), but we were all excited to see 2 whales circle the boat a few times, and we got to see just how big our new friends were.
There were 16 guests aboard and we were split into 2 groups of 8 to go out on the Zodiac skiffs for closer encounters, and hopefully snorkeling with the whales. We spent our second morning in a calm bay by an island with 2 adults who rested down at about 30-40 feet for a few minutes, before rising up for breaths, only to settle back down and hang nearly motionless. Four of us were allowed in the water at a time, with a guide, while the other 4 waited somewhat impatiently for our turn in the water.
The two we met that morning were so calm and not at all bothered by the little creatures floating on the surface. They absolutely made eye contact with us as they rose each time. It just made your heart swell (as well as totally blowing you away) to make that kind of connection.
The next day was blow your socks off adrenaline day! We were fortunate enough to happen on to a "bull run" of 11 adults swimming nearly full on, near the surface for miles. According to our "cruise directors", this is pretty rare, and we were lucky to be in a skiff beside them all morning.
A still picture just doesn't do it justice, so you'll have to bear with me through several videos:
The video above was when we first found them, and were keeping a respectable distance. We then got closer:
Steve titled his video "Close Encounter":
So, my version of that event was a little different:
I'll close with one that shares the majesty, power and grace of our new found buddies. (don't worry, there's at least one, and probably two more blog postings on this chapter of our trip)