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Tonga whales

Each summer right outside the coast of Vava'u, Tonga, Humpback whales group in their tropical breeding grounds. I went to photograph these majestic animals.

Many of the big islands of Tonga made of mainly limestone and there are many caves. This one has an opening allowing sunlight into it.

Many of the big islands of Tonga made of mainly limestone and there are many caves. This one has an opening allowing sunlight into it.

These shots are from a cave called Swallows, I swam using scuba equipment and my whale spotter and swim partner Falanisi Tongi is in the pictures freediving.

These shots are from a cave called Swallows, I swam using scuba equipment and my whale spotter and swim partner Falanisi Tongi is in the pictures freediving.

The whales were in the same area for a while, moving fast, changing direction, breaching, going up, blowing bubbles, slapping their tails in the surface – basically lots of action. 

The whales were in the same area for a while, moving fast, changing direction, breaching, going up, blowing bubbles, slapping their tails in the surface – basically lots of action. 

It took me four days to get to Vava'u due to bad weather. This also made it difficult to spot the whales, with strong winds, big waves and swells stirring up the sea impairing visibility. Eventually I started spotting some of the infamous sea-life, including Spinner dolphins, Pilot whales and finally Humpbacks. There were several adult males alongside pregnant mothers and calves.

 “I was lucky to witness a heat run, which involved eight males showing-off in front of a female”

The males move fast often changing direction, breaching, blowing bubbles and slapping their tails on the surface. The best way to describe this is to imagine a snow-globe (with whales) being shaken.

I continued my journey to Fonuafo`ou, an uninhabited island approximately 90km north of Tongatapu (mainland Tonga). I camped on the remote island overnight in solitude, I was completely removed from everything.

The island is a haven for birds that live in the small central thicket, which is surrounded only by a few meters of sandy beach. The shallows that encompass the island lead into a reef full of fish, including reef sharks.

 

Article previously published in The New York Times magazine.

Staying at the surface, I managed to stay with the whales long enough to focus and get a few shots.

Staying at the surface, I managed to stay with the whales long enough to focus and get a few shots.

The best way to describe this is thinking of a snow-dome (with whales) being shaken.    

The best way to describe this is thinking of a snow-dome (with whales) being shaken.    

A group of pilot whales passed under me at a point when I was already in the water. They are very rare to see and we were the only boat to see any during the past whale watch season. 

A group of pilot whales passed under me at a point when I was already in the water. They are very rare to see and we were the only boat to see any during the past whale watch season. 

We saw eight male whales showing off in front of a female, it is called a heat run - they blow bubbles and jump in and out of the water, and it really limits visibility. I was in the middle of this chaos for about 20 minutes; if you ever wondered what it is like to be the mosquito in the room, this is it.

We saw eight male whales showing off in front of a female, it is called a heat run - they blow bubbles and jump in and out of the water, and it really limits visibility. I was in the middle of this chaos for about 20 minutes; if you ever wondered what it is like to be the mosquito in the room, this is it.

I was freediving with the wales as it is not allowed (and can be dangerous) to scuba with them.

I was freediving with the wales as it is not allowed (and can be dangerous) to scuba with them.

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Arts & Entertainment, Outdoor
Klaus Thymann is an award-winning photographer and film-maker, he works across media and delivers stories and content to The New York Times, The Guardian, CNN and others. 
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