Mother humpback whale and her newborn calf delight swimmers in Tonga
Humpbacks are beloved gentle giants that inspire awe and wonder in all those who see one. Very few are lucky enough to see one from a boat as they pass by and even a sight such as that will never be forgotten. But there are a few places where people can actually get in the water with these magnificent creatures.
These swimmers have ventured to Tonga in the hope that they will catch a glimpse of a Humpback or two. They had no idea that their dream would me more than fulfilled as they met up close with a proud new mother and her two week old baby. The mother cradled the baby on her head protectively and she also rolled and swam in a playful manner, seeming to show off the baby for the thrilled spectators. She passed back and forth, allowing a perfect opportunity to see these great beasts in their own habitat.
Humpback whales come to Tonga each year to breed and to give birth. Here, they are free of predation from killer whales and large sharks. The baby will nurse and grow rapidly, gaining hundreds of pounds each day until it is strong enough for the long journey north to the feeding grounds. The baby's mother has fed for months on krill and plankton in colder waters to store up enough fat so that she can produce milk and live off her fat for a few months. She will not need to feed in the warm waters of Tonga.
Male humpbacks also come to Tonga and the surrounding ocean for a chance to breed with eligible females. They compete in magnificent displays of dominance to ward off rival males and to impress the females. The females will allow one male to breed with her. Sometimes a male will accompany a female while she cares for her young. They act as an escort and protector for the mother and baby, although they may be as motivated by the knowledge that she will soon breed again as they are by the gentlemanly concern for the wellbeing of the lady and her child.
Having a close up look or interaction like this with a creature that is so enormous and yet, so gentle is a life changing moment.