Sunday, September 27, 2015

Another humpback mom and calf

Another wonderful chance to swim with a humpback mother and calf yielded these photos.


Here's mom and calf together. 

 At times we would see mothers put calves on their nose as the calf came up to breathe.  I never got a great photo of this but this one shows the baby right above mom's nose.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Second mom and calf

 The next day, when we encountered our second mom and calf, I was getting better at framing photos without really being able to see anything.  The deep blue water shows all blue on the screen and even if I tried to frame, there's so few white spots to try and focus on on the whales, and I'm trying to mainly watch the whales vs. get great photos.  But still, I managed to capture some images I really like.  The first photo is the calf coming up under me to the surface, with mom nearby.  Here are some other shots of the calf:
 I love the bubbles in this one:
 Note the remoras on the underside as the whale dives down.  Here are some nice shots of mom and calf together.
It was such a special experience to be able to swim with these animals.  How amazing that this huge, gorgeous mother is accepting of a bunch of snorkelers hanging out with her and her baby.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My First Humpback Whale Mother & Calf

I still found it hard to believe it was possible to swim with a mother humpback whale and her new calf, even while on day three of a trip to do just that....but when it finally happened, it became even harder to believe!  The first calf I saw was a bit older, the Captain estimated 4 weeks old.  Again, my photo taking consisted of pointing the camera (not able to see the screen underwater, due to lighting, water depth, etc.) and clicking.  I did this so as not to miss the whale experience by getting focused on the camera.  This results in less than ideal framing, but captures enough for a memory.  (To me, it's so much more important when wildlife viewing to stay in the moment than to get the perfect shot.)

In this first swim I had with a mother and calf, I was shocked at how the calf swam close to the small group of snorkelers - and though I only got part of the calf's body, I was thrilled to capture that much as well as I did as the calf swam close to me and near the surface.  Note that I post both the raw, unedited image and the same image using Adobe Photoshop Smartfix, which adjusts the colors a bit for contrast.  I'm happy with either version!


Same calf, turning to go back down:

I tried to get a photo of the mother whale as well, and the baby and mother in the same shot - but the water was so murky, and at times they were a bit deep to get focus, and I didn't want to focus on photos so I only took a few - and the result is that this really bad photo is the best of the bad ones I have that shows this particular mom and calf together:

Yes, a bit disappointing in quality - but the experience was incredible!  And, over the next few days, I managed to become a better camera operator, and was lucky enough to have some long swims pretty close up, so I have far, far, FAR better mom and calf pics to come as I have time to post them!

These are a few shots of the calf swimming deeper down - again, less than ideal framing, and I actually had to crop out the cameras of some of my trip mates who were also trying to take pictures, but still, I managed to capture the calf well enough to remember him or her!


I was convinced after this that swimming with a mother and calf was in fact really possible - and also thrilling in a way I've yet to find adequate words to describe.  The remaining days of the trip offered several other chances, and each swim/drop is different.  More to come!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Singing Humpback Whale

When I first read that you can snorkel with humpback whales in Tonga, my first thought was "Really???!!??"  I wondered how close you can get, and primarily, whether this can be done without bothering/disturbing the wild whales.  I was amazed to learn that they have their calves in Tonga from July to October before heading back to Antarctica, and they are not feeding, just resting, so it is possible to see them in a very different way from a traditional "whale watch," which I've done from Boston, Kennebunkport (Maine), and Monterey Bay (CA).  I researched the places and companies offering this adventure, and decided on the company that I thought seemed serious about not interfering with the whales and doing ecotourism in a considerate and respectful way.

The trip got off to a bit of a slow start as there was a storm when we arrived in Tonga with 24 hours of rain.  The first two days on the water we didn't swim with whales - we saw some, but there were no opportunities judged by our guides to be swim appropriate  - other than one, which I did try for - but it ended up a very ambiguous whitish something in murky deep water that wasn't identifiable as a whale.  (And I managed to dislocate my right shoulder on that attempt!  There was swell and as I went in the water the boat came up and somehow the shoulder was knocked out.  So I decided to try and swim out anyway and see the whale - but didn't.  I'll save the rest of the dislocation story for later, but I did get it back in place, by myself (with my husband helping me with meds and getting the wetsuit off of course!).  And, I didn't miss any opportunities to swim because of it, I made an underwater sling out of a duffel bag strap and carried on just fine).

On day three we had our first real chance to swim with whales.  Of course, I still didn't know what this meant, and when one of the guides said "it's a singer" I didn't register what that meant, really, either.  For this and all chances ("drops") there is a hurried rush to get ready, as 4 people and 1 guide gear up to get in and swim with the whale.  This means fins and mask on in less than a minute, and sometimes lining up on the backboard of the boat.  The captain positions the boat a safe distance from the whale and the guide jumps in and then signals when to "drop" - ideally in a non-splashy way.  Then you swim as hard and fast as you can to get to the guide, who is pointing down into the very deep, somewhat murky blue water.  And this is what I saw - at first:

Wow!  Floating above the singing male whale, we could clearly hear his song, which went on for about 20 minutes and was incredible to hear underwater.  So, so much cooler than just hearing it on a recording - because you can feel it, and see him "live" performing it!  (I could care less about live bands but somehow hearing an animal singing live is mind blowing!)

I didn't spend any time looking at the camera - all I could see was blue in the screen anyway - so I just aimed in the direction of the whale and hoped.  Here's one where he is in frame, and you can see the white on the fins, and tail, and a white remora on his back:

I'm not great at underwater photography and these are tough conditions, but you can see it's a whale!  And he was right below me - it was surreal.  I didn't even think of - or know - that my underwater camera could be changed to video and record underwater.  And I have no idea if it would have worked anyway - but I didn't get any audio recording of the singer and the one from the hydrophone on the boat didn't record.  BUT - one of my travelmates, Teri Walz, DID get a recording - again not perfect, but enough to remember this beautiful experience by and thanks to Teri for letting me post it here:

After awhile, he came up for air - and seeing him come up beneath and then in front of us was incredible.  He was right at the surface, one comparatively tiny fin protruding and a giant body beneath the surface.

And then back down to recommence singing:

It was a stunning, surreal first whale swimming experience!  Just floating above a living, free, wild whale and hearing and feeling him sing his song made me forget everything else and just stare in awe.  It seemed too good to be true.  On the surface you don't see the whale, you don't hear anything - but if you know where to drop in, (I did two drops with this whale) and you know where to look - there he is.  His fins just moved ever so slightly as he was suspended, singing, calling out to the ocean - what he was saying, I'll never know.  I was just honored he didn't seem to mind me listening in.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Snorkeling Settler's Cove

We are back from a fabulous and amazing - truly amazing - trip to Tonga with Whaleswim Adventures.  On the second day of the trip we had the chance in the afternoon to snorkel briefly in a cave called Settler's Cove.  I would have liked to stay much longer than the time allowed as it was the only good snorkeling we had a chance to do in Tonga (other than snorkeling with the whales, to be addressed in future posts).  There were several schools of fish swirling around in the cave and it was magical, hypnotic, and easy to get lost in.  Here are some photos - which of course don't do justice to the experience!