Gentle Giants In Tonga | August 2018
From the age of ten I always dreamt of one day freediving with humpback whales. Fast forward 40 years and I find myself on a plane to Tonga.
That Summer I trained to lengthen my breath and expand my comfort zone underwater with a freediving course, in preparation for this assignment. Having said that, capturing these moments in Tonga pushed me to my limits.
Locating these magnificent creatures required my team to jump on a boat and head out to the open ocean. When shooting wildlife, there can be no assurances they would show up and allow us in their space. In fact when we found our first humpback whale, she was thrashing about and smacking her tail fin on the surface making it clear we were not welcome. No image is worth creating unnecessary stress for wildlife or danger for the photographic team so we decided to move on.
The next day luck was on our side and we had a lengthy encounter with a mother and her calf. Jumping into the ocean it is indisputable that this is their natural habitat not ours. The mother whale swam protectively alongside her curious calf and it was with her permission that I gently slid into the water, feeling vulnerable and exposed. On a single breath I approached the playful calf who seemed keen to interact as the mother watched closely. For thirty minutes I swam up to the surface for air, diving back down urgently, not wanting to waste a minute of this precious invitation, both myself and the whales curious to download all that we could about each other. Once the mother decided that playtime was over I watched them descend into the deep blue.
There is nothing like the feeling of making eye contact with these gentle giants. Their raw beauty and purity of spirit left me with an indelible mark and a renewed enthusiasm for the conservation of the underwater world.
The goal of this trip was to look for those magical, intimate moments to capture on film. The impact of this experience hit deep for me. The intimate connection with the humpback whales brought to the forefront the urgency to live more sustainably and respectfully on this planet. It is this connection that keeps me curious to keep showing up and always return back to the ocean.