If you've ever gone whale watching you will know the feeling of excitement and exhilaration you get from seeing a whale, whether it's breaching or just showing it's tail, seeing a whale is addictive! I've been whale watching in Townsville and Newcastle a number of times and each and every time I could not wipe the smile from my face, but when the opportunity came up to actually swim with these gentle giants with WhaleSwim Adventures, it was pretty easy to guess what my answer would be!
A big focus on this trip was to swim with these amazing whales as much as possible, understanding their movements and personalities, capturing their behaviour and just really appreciate sharing their home and being in their presence. Apart from a couple of days of unsuitable weather conditions we were blessed with great weather the majority of the trip that enabled us to safely be out on the water and spend quality time with these marine beauties! Each morning we woke early to make the most of the day, after breakfast we would meet on the beach and await our boat that would be taking us out for the day.
Once we got comfortable on the vessel and had our brief for the day, we slowly left the shallows of the reef and made our way to the ocean of Moorea! The crew on board know these waters like the back of their hand and have great knowledge of areas to avoid with unsuitable water conditions but most importantly, where the whales will be! The crew have huge respect for these whales and give them their space and don't go chasing after them, they get an idea where they are by looking for signs including sprays on the horizon, splashes and breaches. Once we locate the whales we head in their direction and once we are a certain distance from them the vessel is stopped and rests and this is where the fun begins, time to get in the water! We gear up in our vests, snorkels and fins and are given a quick talk through of the do's and don'ts when in the water with the whales. It's important to not splash around with your fins or when you enter the water as this can scare off the whales and when swimming in groups it's best to remain in a close huddle as being spread out can intimidate the whales.
Most of the time we would be in the company of a mother and calf and they would rest on the reef below so we were able to observe them from the surface and with the water clarity being so clear we could still see them very well even though they were at least 20 metres below us! These whales don't rest long and when they are on the move, they are on the move! You need to be quite physically fit to catch up with them otherwise they will swim off and disappear in the blue of the water, sometimes we had to swim a distance of up to 200 metres to stay on their lead but if we had no chance of keeping up, our boat would come pick us up and we would start over until they have rested again.
When it comes to whales patience is definitely the key! We could be out on the water for hours and hours to ensure we got the opportunity to experience an up close encounter and trust me, the many hours of waiting were so, so worth it! My most favourite encounter was when we were floating above a resting mother and calf and knowing that they would soon need to resurface for air we decided to wait it out for them to do so. The calf noticed us above and curiosity got the better of it and it started to swim up right in our direction!
My heart was beating so fast and I didn't dare to make any sudden movements. As the whale inched closer and closer it was suddenly only metres away from us! I could see everything so clearly, the markings on it's body, the barnacles holding on tight and even it's eye staring right at us! Under the watchful eye of it's mother below, the calf was being quite playful swimming around us and getting a closer look. The mother and calf eventually swam off to find another resting spot and the whole group was left speechless, all we could do was take a moment and absorb that incredible encounter that we experienced, it was definitely the talking point at that night's dinner!
Swimming with whales is something I could never get bored of, each and every encounter is so unique and still leaves the adrenaline pumping! Being a keen photographer I was pretty devastated that I couldn't find an underwater housing suitable for my Nikon D3400 so instead I took my GoPro Hero4 Session along for the ride and was pretty happy with how the photos turned out. Our photography guide, Michael Smith, had all the right gear and captured some incredible photos, he even manage to take a snap of me watching the whale swim past!
Our skipper and guide, Maire Temauu, is literally a Merman! He is very proud of his island home and has such love and respect for these whales that journey through it. He follows their lead, honours their space and as a result the whales feel so at peace in his presence. Watching him swim with the whales is what I would describe as poetic and I swear at times he communicates with them! The way he moves so smoothly in the water is hypnotising and it's wonderful to see how respectful and understanding he is of these whales.
Now there is one other animal I must mention. He lives above the water, is covered in feathers, has a bit of a broken beak but that doesn't stop him from living a good life and has a name that could almost make you blush, he is the resident Brown Booby! This bird would accompany us on our days out on the water, he would happily just stand on the edge of the vessel and feel the sea breeze through his feathers hoping to get a feed of fish along the way. Each day I would wait for his arrival and would simply smile because he really does have such a good life!