The aluminum tour boat pulled along side Convivia at nine am on a cool wet morning. It was the first gloomy day in 5 days and we wished we could change our reservation. Unfortunately we had put our money down and were committed.
As the drizzle pelted our eyes the Operator (guide) gave us the spiel and implored us to help keep a lookout for whales. I got the kids settled and poked my head out into the spray to keep watch. I was struck by how fast we were moving. The boat’s 20 knots could have been 100. After moving no faster than 9 knots for weeks, it felt like we were flying. Soon we saw our first spout and doubled back to take a closer look.
The first group went in and the mom and calf swam away quickly. The Operator seemed unconcerned. The group got back on the boat and we followed our whale family for another try. Again, they swam away. Our Operator got a good look at the calf this time and noted that it was just 3 weeks old, “the mother isn’t going to let us get close, we’ll find another pair,” and we were off at warp speed again.
We repeated this a few more times and eventually Vick and I rotated in to the dive group. The result of which was that we were now wet, blue lipped and shivering. Still nothing more than a slight glimpse of a whale under water.
Finally we dove next to a playful calf that was old enough that it’s mom gave it some room to frolic. We got close enough to see the whole calf clearly under water and I was immediately impressed with the number and size of the remoras that were cleaning it. I suspect that our calf was trying to shake them off which would explain the strange flailing that I mistook for play earlier. Our calf dove and surfaced a few times and though I was approaching hypothermic, I couldn’t tear myself away from the scene.
Just when I thought I would have to bail our Operator said “The mother should come up soon.” Moments later we saw the outline of our mother surfacing. As she resolved I saw her calf beneath her, nuzzling up under her “chin.” The pair were heading straight for me and got close enough that I had to back peddle to avoid touching them (something I was sorely tempted to do). As they swam away I replayed the image scene over and again until it was firmly lodged. I got out of the water and resolved not to go back in, this was the memory I wanted to keep.
Vick took the next two dives and had her own remarkable experience. (in her voice…)
We had to swim hard to catch our whales! Four of us followed our guide Allister’s yellow fins and sprinted towards the whale. We all stopped to tread water. The whale was deep below us, floating around and fairly still. We were towards the middle of her body and needed to swim towards her face so she could get a look at us too. And much more quickly then us, she swam away. Allister signaled to Tonga (the driver of our boat) to come and pick us up. We climbed back into the dive boat, dripping warm salt water from our wetsuits, and sat shivering in the cold misty rain. We spotted another mama and calf pair and slowly motored over toward them.
With masks and fins on we sat on the edge of the boat waiting for Tonga’s call to drop in the water. Allister was in the lead, Chris and Shawn swam together, I was between them and Simon, a tourist from New Zealand. The baby was close and playful and very curious. I swam quickly towards Allister. I wanted to be close to him. If he told us to swim in a certain direction I wanted to be able to get there, instantly. I also wanted to keep Allister between the whale and me. When it came towards us Simon kicked harder; the whale just barely missed dividing our group. I tried to swim backwards. I didn’t want to turn my back to the whale. It was big, and fast, and close. Soon it’s mama had enough of her calf’s curiosity. She was ready for her baby to leave us alone. Her enormous body swam directly under us. Her pectoral fin just missed us, her tail stayed down. She shoed her baby away. We spit out our snorkels. Our dropped jaws couldn’t hold them anyway. It was time to leave these whales alone, and so for the last time that day we climbed back up into the dive boat to dry off a bit and head home.
Our experiences were both unique and precious and we will remember them (hopefully vividly) for the rest of our lives.