If an interaction with a mother and calf is a gentle and considered experience, the humpback whale heat run encounters are basically the complete opposite!
Imagine if you will up to a dozen (but sometimes even more…) mature male humpback whales, each one around 14m long and weighing about 35 tons, all with one thing one on their mind – sex…
Factor in that they have swam about 6000km in the annual Tongan humpback whale migration and not eaten since they left the Antarctic some 2-3 months before and you can probably understand their ardor!
That’s a lot of energy in the water and in Tonga you have the chance to be in among it all and witness the incredible spectacle first-hand.
Heat runs are initiated by female humpback whales who signal that they “might” be ready to mate by slapping the surface of the water with her huge pectoral fins, sending a very clear signal to any male humpbacks in the vicinity.
Heat runs are extremely dynamic in nature and the quality of the humpback whale heat run encounters boil down to the ability of your boat’s skipper to read the situation and understand where to get you in the water – safely and without creating a problem for the oncoming whales.
It is a very exciting experience and you can tell from all the surface activity that under the water there is some serious stuff going on… You will be sat on the side of the boat, fins and mask on and camera in hand – waiting for the signal from the skipper and then suddenly the engines are killed and all you hear is GO, GO, GO!
The next thing you know is that you are in the water and out of the blue comes the pack.
It truly is an awe-inspiring site as the female leads the way and the males compete to stay in the race by charging each other to try and knock a competitor out, or diving below another male to blow a bubble curtain and disorientate him so that he drops out.
Incredibly, despite their seemingly intense focus on procreation they seem to know where you are and avoid you, which is pretty reassuring given the potential impact of a 35 ton creature traveling at speeds of up to 10 knots could have on the human frame.
Heat runs can go on for hours so it’s quite possible to have multiple encounters by being picked up and then dropped in again in front of the pack!
Humpback whale heat run encounters are an amazing spectacle and Tonga is one of the few places in the world where you can be in the water watching the whole thing unfold as these huge creature perform a three dimensional underwater ballet in front of you!
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