I came to Vava'u, an island group here in Tonga, to have an experience never to forget. The majestic humpback whales are an endangered species, protected here in the Kingdom of Tonga, one of only three places in the world where you can swim with these gentle giants of the ocean. It's not the safest activity and anyone who’s seen them up close as I have, knows this by the sheer size of them when you look face to face. They come each year between the months of July and October to mate and nurture their young. They come after having fed on krill in the Antarctic Ocean and do not eat here at all until they return there. They can get quite thin while their calves are nursing. Most people just see them from shore or a boat, but on whale watch excursions, it's possible to swim with them if they are so inclined and seem to invite your presence as our guide explained. Our boat had eight persons and two Tongans, a pilot and a guide, and we each got a turn to get in the water with one mother and her calf. They are much bigger in the water than they appear on my film, so evident when the baby (over 3 meters long weighing thousands of pounds) came almost nose to nose with us under the sea and his/her momma (who was three times that size) right away brought up the rear as chaperone. We all backed up to let them pass. Wow! After my swim, I gave my camera to Sione, our Tongan guide, to get a bit more film of this pair in action. I cannot tell you how it felt to be there in the middle of such deep water next to two animals which would fill an average sized house. It was exhilarating, a bit scary and certainly a very spiritual encounter between the gasps of excitement. I know that in the future, I will tell this story many times and I hope that people everywhere learn to respect and care for these mammals who are such a gift to our earth.
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