Coming up on a year ago, my wife and I had an experience that is quite literally, incomprehensible, until you experience it yourself. Between the months of June and August, Sunreef Mooloolaba offer a chance for everyday people to do something incredible, something so very few people on the planet will ever have the opportunity to do – to swim with humpback whales.
You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you about something that season doesn’t start for months! Well that’s because the popularity of this service has exploded exponentially over the last few years, but also because of the nature of Sunreef’s business model. More than anything, Sunreef seeks to protect and endear the whales to the everyday person, so the guardianship of the gargantuan animals is paramount in every facet of their operation, so places and trips are limited. All interactions are designed to comply with the National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching (2005) as well as their own strict code of conduct that both staff and customers alike must adhere to.
It might sound like an awful lot of trouble to go through just to get up close and personal with, as some would refer to them, oversized fish. This is such an underestimation of this breath-taking experience with a giant of the deep, and interacting with them in this manner is truly life changing. It’s truly incredible too. Imagine one of the largest of mammals in our oceans, and biggest animals on the face of the earth, is so gentle and so trusting of human beings that you can swim with them. They seem as intrigued by us as we are of them and glide effortlessly around us, with such grace and gentleness it’s almost as if they recognise our fragility and know we are there out of wonder and respect.
Our personal experience was incredible, it’s a story we tell our friends and family time and time again – I think they stopped listening after the tenth retelling. You start off on the boat with the rest of your group and the crew, you’ve been briefed and re-briefed and possibly a third time on the importance of following the code of conduct and staff directions. We bobbed around on the waters for what felt like forever, straining our eyes for any sign of action. Almost ready to pack it in, we decided to give it a little more time – just as the words left our mouths there was a breach. This would be an impressive sight on the television, or from the safety of land, but up close, on a craft about half the length of this monumental beast, it was something else entirely. Fear began to well up in our stomachs, we shared glances of awe, surprise and fear paired with facial expressions that screamed, ‘What are we doing?!’
Everyone clamed down as the skipper clicked the motor down into neutral about one hundred meters away from where the small pod of mother and child floated just beneath the surface of the water. The instructor dove out first, taking the floating line that was securely fastened to the boat itself, my wife making absolutely sure of that. I followed, pretending to be brave, where in actual fact I just wanted to make sure I was right next to the professional at all times. Bobbing up and down in the water, we watched on as they circled around, catching gullets of krill, diving down deep into the dark, before surfacing in a rush of bubbles, crescending in an incredible breach that showered us all in its wake – grips on the floating line collectively tightened intensely. I slipped beneath the water for a clearer look and watched as the small calf glided through the waters beneath us, looking up at me with an incredibly penetrating stare that spoke so clearly of his gentle nature and curiosity. I could almost hear the musing he must have been doing inside his massive brain – similar thoughts to our own I suspect. No doubt questioning our actions, intent, presence and level of self-awareness. I could tell by their collective demeanour that they sensed our peaceful and curious intent, and shared in it.
Time seemed to cease to exist, as we floated there in mutual respect for each other’s space. It seemed that the whales had an appointment to attend, as with a few clicks and stunningly loud and beautiful bellows, along with the flick of their immensely powerful tails, they were gone. Was it something I said? I cannot urge you all enough to take the plunge to experience this first hand in the capable hands of Sunreef Mooloolaba. Whilst their season dosen’t open until June –don’t risk missing out, book now as places fill up quickly. For more information and booking visit the Sunreef website.