I was lucky last month. Not only did I embark on a bucket list trip to try to swim with humpback whales in Vava’u, Tonga, I actually did swim with whales.
While I hoped I’d have a chance to venture close to one, observe it, and have another human capture a photo of me doing so, my primary desire was to hear the whale song—something I’d heard distantly in Australian waters once, in the Great Barrier Reef, but never so loudly I felt it was entering my heart.
Over the course of the week, I learned that whale swimming requires patience—not exactly my shiniest virtue, but one I did manage to embrace.
We spent the first day of our trip cruising around the paradisiacal islands of the Vava’u group, scouting for whales but experiencing no success. I think though, that this made me all the more grateful when, on the second day out, we encountered a male singer whale.
Singers often hang head down, tail up, as they send their plaintive songs into the surrounding waters.
The purpose of this vocalization? Courtship.
They want to attract a mate, and you can only imagine how the song must feel to the whale. Maybe they’re hopeful that the perfect female will respond. Or maybe the song is one of desperation, one they can’t help but sing, even when they know no one is likely to answer their call.
Songs, I think, can sometimes take on different meanings, depending on one’s perspective and emotional state. And maybe whale song isn’t any different.
So this is my whale song.
It talks about the experience of encountering different types of whales—singers, mothers and inquisitive calves, and groups of males chasing a single female in a spectacle known as a heat run.
It mentions snorkeling in exquisitely lit caves. It accentuates the emotion of swimming near a 40-tonne creature that returns your gaze and is clearly enthralled by your presence.
And it recalls the sound of church choirs, which sail up through the tropical air from early morning—voices that always seemed to be present, even when I was in the water, allowing my mind and heart to be touched by something magnificently beautiful and larger than myself.
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Assistant Editor: Terri Tremblett/Editor: Bryonie Wise