In Vava’u, the far northern islands of the Kingdom of Tonga, the water is so clear you feel like the sun’s rays are penetrating all the way to the bottom of the ocean, but you know just beyond their reach, shrouded in the gloomy depths, is a full grown 80,000 pound, 60 foot long, female humpback whale with her newly born calf.
You hover above, suspended in the abyss with your snorkel. Like starring at the night sky for too long, your eyes start playing tricks on you, and you see flashes of colors in the bands of sunlight deep below, and then slowly you hone in on a little while speck. It’s unremarkable except that is seems to be growing bigger, and bigger, and then you see another, and realize they are the markings on the pectoral fins of a fully grown humpback whale.
Everything becomes incomprehensible. As the outline of its body becomes visible, you still cannot estimate its size or speed as the ether provides no point of reference. As its proximity increases, the enormity of the animal becomes clear, as well as the speed at which it is directly rising at you.
You hear your breath become more labored through the small snorkel, still perplexed at the beast which eerily emerged from nowhere, and which now seems everywhere, rising like the bottom of the ocean itself. You have never seen anything so big or fast move so silently and effortlessly. It is just so huge. As far as you can imagine swimming either right or left, it still seems it would be directly below you. You try to stay calm.
Then from beneath it, a playful one ton calf torpedoes for the surface, shooting a fountain of seawater into the air with its exhale, cruising along the surface, basking in the sun, and flashing past you, curious for a closer view. The mother then rights herself, pointing her nose toward the surface, and her approach numbs your body, shooting blood towards your brain. It is now so evident that her size and speed make anything you do irrelevant. You are completely at her mercy to avoid crushing you.
You now ungulate, as the whale’s movement creates under water currents, and then like on a playground swing set, you whoosh backwards with the water, and the mother surfaces, erupting forty minutes of carbon dioxide back into the air. The sunny seas now seem stormy with the amount of motion in the water, and the mother just hangs right in front of you, seemingly oblivious to everything.
A mere twenty feet away, she floats so close you can look into her eyes, which seem to reflect the deep oceans for which they are designed. Their mouths curved upwards in a grin, never changing, making it hard to read their state of mind. Barnacles spot their bodies and glow in the morning sunlight. Scars show along their sidelines, their bright white underbellies look smooth and tender, and their necks look baggy and expandable like a pelican’s. The mother takes her time. Her motion is always giant, and slow motion, worrisome and graceful.
The calf is swimming loops around her, and then she draws her pectoral fin back alongside her body, and time stops again for you as you realize it is about fifteen feet long, and she swings it out like a razor blade right towards you. Then like a sinking ship, she points her nose downwards, and lets her weight direct her decent back to the hidden realms below.
The calf sticks around a bit longer, sometimes cruising right at you to see what happens. It’s scary enough that you try backpedaling with your fins, but it always veers at the last moment. Then too, the one ton juvenile disappears, and you are left floating in the middle of the ocean. So impressed, and awed, and unsure what it all meant.