Humpback whales are immense creatures that inspire awe and wonder in anyone who sees them. To see one from a boat or from the shore is an incredible experience. But to have one chose to interact and swim within arm's reach of you is a life changing occurrence. This whale was curious about swimmers who were drifting at the surface in a shallow bay off Vava'u Island. It actually came directly toward them and then rolled over, looking one swimmer directly in the eye as it slowly passed, exposing its belly as if asking for a scratch. It might have been playful, or it might have understood the effect that such an encounter would have on this little human. The sound of the whales singing filled the water and the vibrations could be felt as if the sounds were being produced by immense underwater speakers.
Tonga is one of the few places in the world where you can swim with humpback whales. The law requires that you have a licensed and experienced guide with you at all times. This is to help tourists maintain the required distance from the animals. It is crucial that the whales never feel harassed or fearful of people in the water. They come to these quiet bays to give birth and to mate. It is one of the few areas of the world that are free from predators such as orcas and great white sharks.
Humpback whales are among the most intelligent creatures on earth. Only dolphins compare in terms of intellectual capacity. It is believed that as recently as 100,000 years ago they were the most intelligent creatures on earth, surpassing even our own predecessors. Their communication is so complex that we are only beginning to understand what the sounds could mean. A whale song can be heard through the ocean for hundreds of miles.
Conservation efforts have made a great difference in the decline of these beautiful animals, but their numbers are still critically low. To lose our whales would be beyond tragic.