Three Weeks Down

Diving BullIt’s been about three weeks so far that I’ve been in Tonga...only a few more to go. Whew.

Fortunately, weather, whales and water have been cooperative for the most part. We had a bit of a storm pass through this past week, but it only kept our boats off the water for a day, so it wasn’t bad at all. Actually, it gave me a chance to catch up on some much-needed rest and long-delayed work.

And, as often seems to happen prior to the approach of bad weather, the whales were particularly active a few days before the storm came through. Last Monday, while fighting large swells, strong winds and generally choppy sea conditions, we had whales breaching, pec-slapping, and tail-slapping all around us. Everywhere we looked, the ocean was filled with snorting and grunting bull whales.

Being on a small boat in relatively rough seas can be quite a challenge. It’s a heck of a workout just trying to keep your balance, and the combination of salt water, unpredictable seas, and high winds makes for a deadly combination for any camera equipment.

Trying to protect your cameras from the elements is a desperate struggle on days like this (I’ve lost more than one camera to the angry sea gods), but it’s also during these frenzied days that I’ve taken some of my most stunning images.

Tail WhackWhen the whales are active, you gotta be there with photo gear ready, and just do your best to keep everything dry. I carry extra towels, wear a big overcoat, and react as quickly as possible to sudden and seemingly random bursts of salt water. And I figure that once every couple of years, the sea gods will win, and I’ll have to sacrifice a camera to placate them, as I did last year.

So after three weeks on the water, the high frequency with which I’ve been encountering young whales has continued unabated, so it still seems to me like there are relatively more whales around this year than in the previous few years.

At the same time, however, my count of distinct mother and calf pairs has only gone up to eleven (from nine in my previous major blog entry), so despite the seemingly high population of whales, it seems like there are relatively few calfs this year. Of course, there’s still plenty of time for more mothers to give birth though, so we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks. Mom and Babe

In addition to my own encounters, I’m doing my best to keep track of the mother and calf sightings that other boats have, but so far, I seem to be having the best luck finding friendly whales. This past week, for instance, while no one else was able to get into the water with mother and calf pairs, I had four different sets, three of which I’d come across before.

Perhaps it's just good luck, but I like to think it’s payback for the many cameras I’ve sacrificed here over the years!

[tags]Humpback Whale, Cetacean, Tonga[/tags]

Off to try my luck again…