Accidently Swimming with the Whales

by Drew on September 23, 2009

We received word that the boat thought lost on that reef in Fiji has been pulled off the reef and is sitting (with a few leaks) on a mooring at Mago Island. Nice. Even nicer is that Mago Island belongs to Mel Gibson and the guy who hit the reef is holed up on the island with Mel’s chef catering to him. On to other news…

We’re in the out islands of Vava’u again after a short overnight break in town last weekend. We went back to renew our visas and pick up some things at the store. Then we realized Aquarium Cafe was giving out cruiser crack (the internet) for free and it started raining so we figured “what the hell” and stayed the night. I pulled an all-nighter working on the Dosia-for-Sale page and on Saturday afternoon we headed back out again, first to Port Murelle and then onto Anchorage #16 on Sunday. Monday, we joined a few other boats on the beach and headed across the reef to do some snorkeling on what we heard was one of the best reefs in Vava’u. Tom from Zen and I spent some time spearfishing with no luck while Marge, looking spiffy in my wetsuit, and several others snorkeled the reef. The colors were better than anything we’ve seen in the South Pacific SO FAR. It was nice to see a healthy reef again; one unaffected by El Nino or the Crown of Thorn starfish. The water temp is still cool so after an hour or so, everyone meandered back to their boats. I hadn’t had enough so Tom let me borrow his big speargun and I headed back over.
Marge wet suited up for some reef exploring
I took a shot on a nice parrot fish and nailed it with a perfect kill-shot. Problem was the spear tip was loose. It popped off and my beautiful fish took a bloody nose dive into a deep hole in the reef. First things first, where did that brand new tip land? Is it in the hole? In the fish? On the reef? After a few minutes of searching the area I sensed I wasn’t alone. A large white tip shark had joined me in the search, only he wasn’t so interested in the expensive new spear tip. I backed off and let him circle the blood cloud rising from the reef. A school of large snapper and grouper joined him for the feast and all I could do was sit there and drool. Finally, one of the snapper starts picking at a piece of flesh sitting on the reef and BINGO…there’s the tip. Now I had everything I needed, an intact speargun and a beefy dead fish, only I couldn’t get to either because of the shark. And then there was the plethora of other fish who’d shown up. How frustrating! After a couple of minutes I could tell the shark wasn’t leaving anytime soon so I’d have to bully my way underneath him and get the tip back. I loaded the gun with the blunt tip (just in case) and went in for it. No problem. It must have been my manly aura. Yeah right. More likely it was my combination of jerry rigged weight belt and mismatched gloves. He figured I was more desperate than he was, but he still wasn’t going to give up that fish.

So off I went, gun in hand, loaded and ready for a second chance. That’s when I heard it. When you hear a whale underwater, there is no mistaking it. The sound of a whale song must be engrained in the human mind. Maybe you’ve heard it on your relaxing sleep CD, or “Planet Earth”, or from Dory in “Finding Nemo.” You’ve surely heard it somewhere. What I heard was a mother and a calf. I took a look across the surface and sure enough, there they were, about 75 yards away over the deep water flipping and playing. After watching them for a while I figure what the hell and start off toward them. About 25 yards out, I look up to gather my bearings and they were gone. Flipping my fins, I periscoped out of the water as high as possible and looked around. Nothing. Oh well, it was a long shot anyways. I dropped back beneath the surface and was about to swim back toward the reef when out of the darkness, two massive shadows came right at me. Holy shit. I’m not going to swim with the whales, they’re coming to swim with me.

The calf seemed to be leading its mother right up into the shallows of the reef. And by her constant chatter, I got the idea she wasn’t all that thrilled with the idea. At this point I’m literally backpedaling away from them. Common sense dictates that you never get between a whale mom and its calf. I’d guessimate they were 35 feet away and coming fast. I backed over the reef as far as I figured they’d come and hung there, staring in complete awe at this wildlife moment. People pay ridiculous amounts of money to do what I was doing for free. As they passed close by, singing at the top of their lungs, all I could think was “man, I wish Marge was here.” I knew she’d be so upset to miss it. After they moved off to the deeper water, I turned and headed back to the spot on the reef where I’d lost my fish. The shark was gone but a five foot barracuda had moved in. I couldn’t see the fish in the reef anywhere. Several grouper and snapper were still hanging out though and I couldn’t resist. I dove down, took a long distance shot at a decent size grouper, and hit him dead on. It was a kill shot but the spear hadn’t gone all the way through so as I swam back to the shallows, he popped off the tip. Luckily I was able to reach out and grab him with my mismatched ghetto glove. Just as I did I saw the flash. That damn white tip had popped out of a ravine in reef and was coming at me fast. Oh no, I don’t think so. I held the fish out of the water and literally beat the white tip back with the gun all the way to the exit point. I climbed up on the rocks and tossed the fish as far back from the waterline as possible. All I could do was lay there, laughing, adrenaline pumping from all I had seen in the last 15 minutes. That was one hell of an afternoon.
Drew fought a white tip hard for this lil' guy!
Later that night, we gathered on the big ship Karma for a huge feast including my hard fought catch. Zen had actually witness my encounter with the whales from afar and Tom couldn’t believe he’d decided to sit the afternoon out. I was beat and after a huge meal and a glass of scotch I was done for the night. The next morning we moved down to anchorage #31, Maninita Island, the southern most anchorage in the Vava’u group (photo below). And here we sit again, tucked in next to Zen in yet another tiny, blue, South Pacific lagoon. Man, I’m gonna miss this life.
Dosia in anchorage #31 in Tonga


Rob October 16, 2009 at 10:28 pm

What a great entry. I may have missed why you are selling.

Jeff November 13, 2009 at 7:36 pm

I agree….why are you giving up that lifestyle?…..just pondering while I sit here in a rainy and 40 degree Portland Oregon….

Didne December 15, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Wow Drew that is just amazing ! Thanx 4 all your info and the reply on thorntree, i really can’t wait now, Didne 🙂

Esther Cook November 13, 2010 at 10:58 am

I’m Tongan and have lived in New Zealand and Australia. I’ve never been to Tonga but your experiences there have made me think of why the hell I’ve not made the trip there yet??! Soon… very soon. Thanks for sharing!

Richard April 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm

What an experience. We were just in Hawaii and were befriended by two whales for a couple of hours. One of the best experiences ever.

Erik July 10, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Drew, this entry has me writing my resignation letter. I feel such an urge to get back to this lifestyle. Now……..where did I put that scratch-card?…….

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