Having had a slow start to our humpback whale watching experiences here in Tonga, today was an absolutely mind blowing and unforgettable day! It is only the beginning of the season here in Vava’u, a northern island group in the Kingdom of Tonga, but the whales are starting to show up in increasing numbers. The season generally runs from mid-July to October, but apparently they are a little late in arriving this year.

For two days we caught only brief glimpses, whetting our appetites for the famed encounters that have attracted increasing numbers of wildlife enthusiasts over the past few years. The whales migrate here from the Antarctic searching for warm, benign waters in which to give birth and mate.

Finally, today we finally struck gold and had some great in-water encounters! First thing this morning our eagle-eyed guide spotted a whale within only tens of metres from the rugged cliff edge of an island, and we managed to spend a little time with it in the water. It was an adolescent who was on a mission to the open sea, but it did make a couple of close passes to check us out.

We then headed to the open ocean where we came across a group comprising a female and three potential male suitors. We ended up in the middle of a heavy weight match between the males trying to entice the female. We didn’t get in the water since a misplaced pectoral fin or tail could easily give you a headache to remember.

Later we motored east and came across another group of four, again a female and three males. We had two amazing swims with this group, which were again jostling for the female’s attention but were much less violent. Although humans clearly aren’t on their menu, their sheer size can be quite intimidating, especially when your in amongst four of these giant animals!

This was the first time I’d ever seen a whale in the water, and it really was a dream come true and something I will never forget. It is a shame that this is a very sensitive time for whale conservation as the International Whaling Commission works hard to prevent breakaway nations from resuming commercial whaling which, as we all know, drove many species to the brink of extinction. Seeing these amazing creatures face-to-face gives not a moment’s hesitation as to which side of the argument to support.

Originally written for FiNS Online.