I am happy to announce a change in upcoming adventure Sept 12-23, 2014 dedicated to photographing Southern Hemiphere Humpback Whales in Tonga. The adventure has gone from land based to Liveaboard.
It’s kind of funny because in 2012, my friend and well known marine photographer Mark Strickland and I started planning a special adventure to swim with Southern Hemisphere whales in Tonga. Mark had been on 3 or 4 of my previous whale trips and we decided to do a trip together. We wanted to take a small group on an adventure dedicated to photographing these gentle giants. We tried to charter a new 53 foot sailing catamaran called Wildlife but it was booked so we selected Topic Bird, a ribbed inflatable. Well, the plan has changed.
As a result of the cyclone damage back in January of this year, some accommodations and restaurants have to be rebuilt. At first the operators had hoped they could do it in time for the 2014 season which starts in July. It has just become clear that this wont happen due to logistics and infrastructure. As a result, rooms I had reserved were given away to another group. So I reached out to Dave Sheen who owns both Topic Bird and Wildlife and asked if he had any ideas. Happily Dave had the answer. Wildlife was available. The group that had reserved her canceled. So I happily said ok.
This 11 day adventure is very special as Wildlife is just two years old and quite comfortable. At this time one there is one space open. That said if a couple wanted to join we could make that happen. We will take a maximum of 4-5 guests. Meals are provided. Alcohol is not. Photography advice from with Master Photographer Douglas j Hoffman and Mark Strickland is included. This will be Douglas’10th season coming to Tonga to photograph and swim with Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whales. This special trip will be dedicated to observing, photographing and especially swimming with the large population of Humpback Whales that visit these islands every year to mate and give birth. Douglas and Mark will share insights gained from years of experience, with the goal of helping every guest enjoy this trip to the fullest. There will also be ample opportunities for them to review your work, and critique your images.
From the moment we leave the dock we will be in Whale Country. The boat will pick everyone up in Ha’apai. This is not the main island in Tonga, so guests will need to take a 20 minute domestic flight.
The plan is to sail among the myriad of islands looking for cooperative whales to swim with. Each night we will anchor off an picturesque island. This is the ultimate eco adventure! Each day we will check out the channels between the islands as well as shallow bays looking for different whale behavior. Once cooperative whales are spotted we will rotate two groups of 2-4 in the water. Over the years we have learned that passive behavior on our part leads to trust and acceptance by the whales. When this happens, the whales become comfortable with our presence and often hang out for extended periods of time. The feeling you have while swimming in the presence of whales is indescribable. There will also be great photo and video opportunities both in and out of the water.
While these expeditions are perfect for photographers, non-photographers are also welcome… it is, after all, the experience of being among these incredible animals that is our foremost objective. And more than anything, it is the quality of that experience that distinguishes our trip the many others you’ll see advertised. It’s true that you can have good opportunities to see humpbacks underwater on a standard trip, but there’s a big difference between going out on a public boat and a private charter. Standard trips typically take 8-12 people, with the goal of everyone getting at least a quick look at a whale underwater. While this is often accomplished, the mindset is typically geared towards getting everyone in the path of passing animals, which usually results in a very brief, “flyby” encounter. True, most people do get to see whales underwater, but such fleeting glimpses seldom result in quality photo ops or prolonged interactions. With our approach, however, we’ll have fewer people in the water, which in itself is less intimidating to the whales. We will also be more selective about which whales to swim with, by looking for specific behaviors that might turn into extended encounters. By concentrating on whales that are behaving in a relaxed manner, we’ll have fewer “flybys” and more opportunities for the prolonged, quality encounters that we’re after. Private trips are a bit more expensive but worth it because you get a much better experience, with far better chances of those special moments and photo ops that we came for. Less people means more fun.
Wildlife, the 53 foot sailing catamaran in Ha’apai Tonga
If interested in joining this adventure send me an email, or call 808 870 3686.
This charter is going to be awesome. If you have ever wanted to swim with whales, this is the right boat, with the right crew, and like minded guests. This time of the season the calves are a bit more independent and the mothers are happy to have a break for a quick nap. Early in the season the moms are a bit more nervous and hesitate to have long encounters with humans. The winds are also a bit less time of year. Less wind makes it easier to see whales exhaling on the surface.
We will witness a variety of behaviors including breaching, head lunges, spy hopping, peck slapping, teen age whales playing and practicing mating behaviors they will use in a few years time, heat runs, nursing, resting, tracking, and much more.
In addition to Humpback Whales we might encounter False Killer Whales, Mellon Headed Whales, Pilot Whales, Bait balls, Manta Rays, and several species of dolphins. In the 2011 season we had one encounter with Pilot Whales, Dolphins, and Humpback Whales at the same time. It was incredible.