In a truly spectacular sight, a whale & her calf sought refuge in the lagoon of Bora Bora last week just inside Teavanui Pass in around 15m of water. Needless to say they became the focal-point of people’s attention with boats of every shape, size & sort arriving along with zodiacs, jet-skis, stand-up paddle-boards, indeed anything that could float!
The photo below captures the power & beauty of the humpback’s tail or ‘fluke’ – a fully grown female’s fluke can reach up to 5.5m in width!
Humpback whales navigate through the clear, warm waters of Bora Bora each year between July & October. They are here to give birth & to breed – a humpback calf can be up to 4.5m at birth & weigh almost 1,000kg! Mothers will calf every 2-3 years upon reaching maturity (6-10 years) with a gestation of 12 months on each occasion.
Interestingly the world’s population of humpbacks live in quite distinct isolated populations – there are 7 such ‘stocks’ in the southern hemisphere – so families of whales return each year. The bigger eaters in the family will consume up to 1,500kgs/day of krill & other small fish.
Bora Bora & the surrounding islands are a good place to view the whales – the whales swim close to shore & it delivers a certain intimacy to the encounter.
The greatest number of sightings tends to fall in & around September & whales are often seen during the running of the annual Maraamu Surf-Ski Race – there are wonderful stories of whales breaching right alongside surf-skis being swept along in the powerful southerly swell that develops at this time of the year.
Visitors to Bora Bora wishing to see the whales are fortunate to have the services of Tohora Bora Bora whose qualified staff specialise in whale watching tours – the quite stunning images in this report were captured off Bora Bora by Tohora.
It is well worthwhile taking a tour with the experts as they can answer your every question & give explanations for much of the whales behavior – whales jumping out of & crashing their massive bodies back into the waters may well be just having fun but may also, for example, be males looking to mate coercing certain females or warning off other rival males, or they could be whales of both sexes driving off potentially dangerous sharks……….an outing with experts can be immensely rewarding.
Whales would not normally enter a pass unless they were seeking protection from potential predators. One explanation for the whales seeking refuge in Bora Bora’s lagoon is the fact that not far off the actual pass there is a deep hole prized by tuna. At this time of the year the area attracts tiger sharks looking to feed & tiger sharks represent a danger for calves. This is a very interesting point for the many visitors who take the dive with the Lemon Sharks off Teavanui Point – throwing burley to attract the lemon sharks may one day be met with unexpected consequences!
Strict rules have been in place since 2002 requiring that observers stay at a distance of at least 100m from a whale & her calf – this of course assumes that the animals are in open sea ; greater care is required should they enter a pass. Those breaking the law face heavy penalties – up to 3 months imprisonment, fines up to 980,000xpf & even seizure of their boats.
The whales sheltering in Teavanui Pass met with a group of enthusiasts wanting to get as close as they could, to dive with the whale, to swim with the whales. At one stage a large yacht literally collided with the mother seeing mother & calf actually separated for several hours – be aware that when first born a calf lacks the muscular agility & body fat to readily reach the surface to breathe; the mothers actually swim whilst sleeping transporting their calf in their slipstream for several weeks until such life-skills are developed. A mother will nurse her calf for a full year.
If you are on a snorkeling or diving tour off Teavanui Pass during the whaling season keep your ears open as one can often hear the sounds of whales communicating as the swim past – humpbacks are known to be great ‘chatters’! Scientists have discovered that (male) humpbacks actually sing quite complex songs. In days gone by whales could communicate a couple of thousand kilometres apart, but with noise pollution this has now been reduced to a couple of hundred kilometres.
I have also dived with the humpback whales, the biggest of which can approach 20m & weigh over 40 tonnes – & it’s the females who are the biggest – off Tahiti & off Maupiti. Although a humpback can swim at almost 30kph in short bursts they generally cruise at around 5-15kph, non-stop, averaging around 1,000ks /month.
Looking underwater & seeing these massive creatures in the distance coming towards you without deviating & swim straight past you with just a gentle glance is one of life’s great rewards.
And remember – humpbacks can live for up to 50 years ……some of the guys swimming past may just merit your respect on the basis of age!