In Tonga this year, I met a few interesting characters, had the chance to see good friends, and ehnjoyed many great whale encounters.
One such character was an emergency room Dr. named Roy. A likable guy, but he reminded me of Charlie Brown. On the first day when it was time to snorkel with the whales, he bit his snorkel so hard his two front teeth (implants) fell out. The next day ironically he got food poisoning eating seafood at a bar called the Billfish. The day after that Roy almost drowned after scuba diving. If I ever write a book, Roy has definitely earned a place. It is only out of respect I did not include an image of his smiling face.
I also met Mark Snyder, a photographer that exposes in camera in ways he knows that once worked on in phot0shop will be awesome. I enjoyed his style and the images he showed. Mark is currently doing promotional photography for the Naia in Fiji.
Mark Strickland was also along. This was his fourth whale expedition with me. Mark leads groups throughout the Indo-Pacific, and is an expert in marine life behavior. We have been friends since the early 90’s, but it want until this trip to Tonga that we actually had the chance to dive together. Mark is known for leading groups to Thailand and Indonesia and for his knowledge of marine life behavior.
Then there was the photographer that had bad etiquette and consistently charged ahead of the group in a manner that ended most whale interactions. When asked to stay with the group Phillipe replied yes or course, but as soon as he got in the water had the all about me attitude. As a result he sat alone at dinner.
When it comes to successful whale photography, swimmers must stay in a group and avoid the desire to swim directly at the whales. Humpbacks are as curious about us, as we are of them. When the whales, especially the mothers, know where the humans are and that they are not a threat they will relax. After a few breathing cycles some whales, especially calves will become interested and swim by to have a look. This is when mutual interactions take place.
The next group consisted of a real estate agent, t.v. celebrity, and two professional photographers. Right away everyone shared an all about we attitude. The reward was with swimming with too many heat run, and mother calf and escorts to count. One of heat runs included a battle scene underwater that I will never forget. I saw one whale push, shove, bubble, and use its flukes to push down another whale.
On several occasions we saw four or more whales not quite sexually active but practicing behavior they would be doing for real within the next season. We also saw a lot of mom, calf, and escorts tracking along as if to stay away from other bull whales.
Les Stroud was the celebrity and he told me of his future plans to put on rock concerts that while the music is playing, will feature video and still images that support the idea of the song. Les is motivated to protect marine and wild life as well as our environment and natural resources. It think he is on to something big and am sure he will help raise social awareness. Way to go!
Laura Bombier a professional photographer from Canada was also on the boat. This woman impressed me a lot. straight from the plane and several days of travel into a boat in very rough seas and strong winds. Laura never complained or missed an opportunity to swim with whales. What a great attitude.
My final group included a photo-journalist, three very experienced divers/photographers and a man that had never snorkeled before. The pro was Tim Rock and this was his fourth time traveling with me. Having been in the industry over 38 years his stories are simply amazing. So is his talent.
As a group we decided it was a priority for Phil to swim with whales. So everyone helped out and enabled Phil ample time in the water to get comfortable. Tris and Ed took turns being his buddy so Phil had support in the water. Phil was motivated and eventually overcame his fears associated with snorkeling in deep water, and swimming with animals that weigh 30-40 tons. Over the week he went from being slightly reserved to having a certain quiet confidence and swagger. No doubt Phil has memories that will last a lifetime. It was fantastic to be a part of that.
Indeed I am very fortunate to be able spend time in the water with whales, and help other people meet their photographic and personal goals. I am also very happy to have met Tris and Dave Sheen. These two people have great passion for whales, and all species of life. It was a pleasure to be around them, and I look forward to many more trips with Whale Discoveries.