The T-Rex of Whales and Too Many Fish
Water temperature: 25C/77F, slowly rising.
When you think you’ve had your best trip on NAI’A, this old girl delivers an even more unbelievable charter, and this time it came in the form of 15+ sperm whales. Yes, sperm whales, “the T-rex of the whale world”, grouped up and extremely relaxed, rendering several in-water encounters. And if that isn’t enough, we also interacted with pilot whales and saw mantas and hammerheads on several dives. Our guests could not believe their luck, and neither could we!
10 out of 15 guests on this trip were here with Mel, the woman who “used to tell the world about NAI’A” and finally got to bring her friends to see why she “wouldn’t shut up about Fiji”. Our other guests got along beautifully with the Mel crowd and a great atmosphere developed from day 1. We started with a checkout dive close to Bekana island, as the winds were acting funky and the forecast called for one calm day: Sunday. And we would dive the Sea Mounts on Anne’s birthday.
Photo by Mike: Sperm whales, big and small (well... big and less big)
Photo by Mike: Sperm whale
Few dives in the world beat diving E6 and Mount Mutiny when the wind is absent and the sun is shining. So this group was rather spoiled on their first day with the stunning scenery plus sightings of octopuses, turtles, nudibrancks and egg ribbons, scorpionfish and so many communities of reef fish everywhere. On the move from E6, Big Mo spotted what we thought were 4 duos/trios of humpbacks, swimming really slowly and very relaxed. As we approached with the skiffs, it was soon clear they were sperm whales, especially when they spy-hopped. We initially got in with groups of 2 and managed some incredibly intimate encounters, and later they grouped into a group of 12 with some calves between them, and we had briefer encounters, but with larger numbers. We respected their space, and they left us, but not in a terrible rush.
As if the day could not get any better, as we were about to leave, we saw the sperm whale group meet with a pod of pilot whales… and spinner dolphins spinning on the other side of the skiff. We could not believe our eyes! We got in the water with the pilot whales and had one magical moment with 2 adults and 2 babies, who swam under us and turned to make eye contact. As we got back on NAI’A and moved the ship, the sperm whales followed with us for another 20 minutes or so. We decided every day was going to be Anne’s birthday! On the night dive, we saw many interesting jellies in the water column, a white tip shark and a couple of flying squid.
We moved to Wakaya and dived the wall a few times as well as Vatu Vai. We saw some humphead wrasses, a few lionfish, leaf scorpionfish, some VERY camouflaged nudis, a few grey reef and white tip sharks, a hammerhead and a turtle. Oh, yes, and the mantas. The big black fish weren’t interested in their cleaning station, but we has some close fly-bys. Johnny was the more friendly and Flapuccino, possibly the world’s most restless manta, was seen with her tag roaming around. The night dive was relaxed and, according to Johannes, the perfect way to end such a fabulous day.
Photo by Mike: Lucky Left at E6
Photo by Mike: More sperm whales
Photo by Mike: And more
Photo by Jason: In-water encounter
Photo by Bel: Pilot whales, mom and babies
The move to Makogai was short and easy, and despite the bumpy rides to the sites, our dives were incredibly relaxing and mesmerizing, all at once. Megan thought Becky’s to be “like a fairy tale”. We saw (and defended) sergeant major eggs being attacked by wrasses, colorful nudibranchs, banded pipefish, redfin anthias and another manta sighting at Rick’s Rocks, our second this year! Late afternoon we headed to our village visit, always a highlight of the trip, especially when all our guests join. Mel was our chief, but also almost held hostage at the end as she was taking polaroid photos of the children. They did NOT want the chief to leave!
Then we moved to Namena Marine Reserve. The ride was extra bumpy, but our stay was worth it all. For two days we dived with gey reef sharks, white tips, enormous dogtooth tunas and spanish mackerels. We saw huge schools of trevallies, pinjalos, triggerfish, snappers, rainbow runners and barracudas. We had 4 hammerhead sightings on 3 dives. We saw ribbon eels, decorated dartfish (go Connie!), turtles, crouchers, palette surgeonfish, a huge map puffer and orangutan crabs. Namena’s abundance and colors never cease to amaze us every time we return here. We were glad to bring Mel here for the first time, and to spend Lihui’s birthday in such a magical place, even if she tried to hide her birthday from us! Our kava party was great fun, and our star animals were Jill’s fruit bat and April’s frog.
We spent the last day at Vatu-i-ra Marine Reserve and… well… the main complaint was that there was just too many fish. Mellow Yellow can be that way, so we ended up going there twice, and it would seem there were even more fish on the last dive. Poor healthy reefs had to go unnoticed! At Howard’s, Mike found two turtles who were very incredibly high, still chowing on soft corals, and getting even higher. It has been an incredible trip, and it is hard to believe it was only five days ago that we were swimming with 15+ sperm whales. During the ride home, we spotted a minke whale heading south, and John proposed to Jill, who obviously said YES! It was a special trip, so we were glad to share it with such a special group.
Photo by Mike: Makogai village visit
Photo by Johannes: Boys will be boys
Photo by Jason: Stoner turtle
Photo by Mike: Jill said YES!
Mel & friends, in Fiji after 15 years!
The luckiest guests on NAI'A!
“I have just had a marvellous 10 days aboard Nai'a. As usual, your Fijian crew are rather special, and all the other guests felt the same. It was so great to be aboard again.”
~ Quentin, 6-time passenger, New Zealand