A pod of humpback whales nearly collided with swimmers in Tonga

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Humpback whales are one of the most massive and beautiful creatures on the planet. They come to Tonga from July to October to mate and have their babies in a safe environment where there are no predators. The conditions are ideal and the mothers give their calves plenty of milk so that they grow quickly. They will need their size and strength for the long journey to the northern waters where they feed. Bulls, or male humpback whales, also come to Tonga and they will follow the females and calves for weeks, providing escort and added security for the pair. But they are also waiting and hoping for a chance to mate with the females. Their protection is only partially motivated by a desire to protect her and the calf. It is also motivated by the desire to have an opportunity to reproduce. When a female humpback is ready to mate, the males follow her and even chase her, vying for rights. These chases often involve six or seven males swimming at full speed, acting very aggressively as they fight and bump into each other. Sometimes they inflict serious injury on each other in the process. They are 60 ton animals and their hormones are raging. They have little restraint and a lot of drive as they struggle fiercely to impress the female. These behaviors are exciting and fascinating to observe from a boat. These swimmers enjoy snorkeling in the shallow waters near an island near Vavaèu in Tongan waters. They watched the whales from the boat and looked for a chance to swim with a whale. Now, during a lunch break, they watch the corals and fish along the reef. This is the last place you would expect to see a humpback whale or a fast moving pod of whales. But the whales arrived like a herd of wild elephants. The female was leading the pack and nearly hit two of the swimmers. They saw her arrive in time to swim backwards and out of the way. Laws here, as well as common sense, dictate that people avoid coming within 5m or 15ft of whales. Ethical guides such as the one on this tour will strictly enforce these rules and make sure guests understand. But it is impossible to control the behavior of the whales and it is possible that they do not respect the same distance. The swimmer filming the incredible event looked to his left to see a 55ft humpback whale charging towards him in water barely deep enough for the whale to squeeze through. He was floating on the surface, about 15 feet from the coral and there was nothing to do but tuck his arms and legs in. The whale seemed to realize it was about to collide with a helpless person and it suddenly slowed down, twisting and almost scraping the coral with its belly. The bull swam directly under him and missed him by inches. This gentle giant was actually doing very slow, careful strokes with its tail until it was clear of the swimmer. He then sped up with much bigger tail swipes and quickly flew past the peloton. A total of seven whales burst in front of these surprised swimmers. These incredible creatures have far greater intelligence and compassion than we have ever attributed to them. Unfortunately, some countries still hunt and kill these magnificent animals. Tongans have a lot to teach us about respecting whales and the environment. Humpback whales also provide Tongans with much needed income through tourism, as people travel here to experience their beauty in their natural world. Losing these whales would be more than tragic.

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