Turn Up the Heat (Runs)!
We can’t believe this charter brings us to the end of our Tonga 2019 humpback whale season. We are saying goodbye to our beloved humpies with heavy hearts but full of fantastic memories: super-interactive moms and calves, song so loud we could hear it above water and the hottest heat runs of the year!
This trip we welcomed onboard a wonderful variety of travelers: a mix of ages, a mix of nationalities – American, Dutch, German, Venezuelan – and both return and new-to-NAI’A guests!
Our trip began with the calmest of seas and the bluest of skies. Straight after our first breakfast together, we spotted several different pods of whales so got straight out on the skiffs. We didn’t have success getting in-water at this stage but we did manage to get nice and close and enjoy our first surface encounters. To be honest, it felt like the cheeky whales were giving us the run around a bit: we’d follow one in front of the skiff for a while, then it would disappear for a few minutes…. Before popping up BEHIND the skiff! Time and time again. These whales have got a sense of humor! After a while we decided to call it quits and take a break for lunch. Only seconds after getting everyone back on the big boat, an enormous adult whale breached RIGHT next to us!! Where had he been hiding all this time?! After lunch, we came across our first heat run of the trip: we followed 6-8 bulls fighting it out at high speed, tussling below the surface before coming up gasping for breath. Eventually, they began to slow down a little so we decided to get back out on the skiffs to get a little closer to the awesome action. Before long, our guests got their first in-water encounters! Some managed to get in with these bulls once they’d calmed down – what a first experience! – and others came across a mom and calf. However, our bright blue skies soon turned BLACK and heavy rain came in, forcing a retreat to NAI’A! Not at all bad for a first day…
Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Mark, Mark, Harry, Mark
The next morning, we had an incredible encounter with a mom and calf. This little one was a total wild card: breaching and bouncing, and whacking and slapping his ‘little’ fins around! We imagine he must have been born very early on in the season and was quite well grown by this stage as he was venturing FAR from momma which is quite unusual. All of our guests got very up close and personal with this energetic bubba: some even had to launch out the way as he got a little bit TOO inquisitive! Later that day, we enjoyed a peaceful walk along the beach at Uoleva and sent out our first night dive of the trip with divers coming back with reports of a Rumengani’s Pipefish which is super exciting.
Photo credits (Top left, bottom left, center, right): Kim & Tom, Harry, Caraleen, Harry
The following day we enjoyed both the extremes of whale activity: a nice and slow, relaxing and calm mom and baby encounter in the morning followed by a crazy, high-adrenalin heat run in the afternoon. This was by far the most impressive heat run of the season: at one point, from up in the crow’s nest, we were counting 12 individuals thrashing it out! The speed was mind-blowing: NAI’A could only just keep up. We eventually had to leave them as they were leading us mile after mile AWAY from our anchorage for the night! We finally made it back to Uiha where we enjoyed a casual walk around the village at Felimea.
Photo credits (all photos): Mark
The next couple of days were a little slower: we were seeing many whales but they were all giving us the run around, and then bad weather came in for 24 hours and essentially eliminated our chances of getting in the water! We did manage to get in another night dive though with divers seeing a Spanish dancer, multiple flat worms, an octopus and the FUNNIEST crab with a piece of sponge about three times the size of his own body stuck to his head! We also filled the time with some retail therapy: there were some SERIOUS, committed pro shoppers in this group!
Photo credits (all photos): Mark
Once the bad weather passed we were quickly back in the game and had once of the most special encounters of the entire season. We came across the most peaceful mom, calf and escort trio. They were absolute perfection! So much so, we spent the whole day with them (with a good, long break for a refuel-lunch between sessions!). It was such a fascinating interaction. The escort was hanging deep, deep below: we could barely see his silhouette, as he hung like a dark submarine with just the odd flash of white giving away his location. Meanwhile, momma hung peacefully close by us – sometimes just below, sometimes right up at the surface – as little one flitted between resting on her long snout and playing around at the surface. Mom was so tired we could see her eyes slowly drooping as she seemingly drifted off to sleep, only to ping back open as she remembered to check on bubba! Most magical of all was the SOUND: it was so unbelievably loud, we could even hear it from on the skiff. We were all amazed by the incredible mix of deep rumbles, haunting melodies and high-pitched chirrups. It felt like such a privilege to be allowed in on this beautiful scene and we’re sure it’s a moment none of us will forget!
And so, we find ourselves at the end of our Tonga 2019 season. As excited as we are to get back to Fiji and our beautiful soft coral reefs, it is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to our darling humpback whales!
“Any country with coral reef like this has a national treasure that should be protected. Fiji is one of the few lucky countries.”
~ Roger Steene, photographer, author, naturalist