It was definitely more luck than judgement. We’d been dropped on the outer reef by the captain of our boat to enjoy a bit of pre-whale shark snorkelling at Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. Only I had a wetsuit malfunction and had to swim back to the boat to ditch it. Ever safety conscious, the onboard photographer, Xander was instructed to escort me and once I’d extricated myself from said suit, we were off again to rejoin the others.
About this time we heard Captain Kirk (yes honestly) shouting at us to swim to the right. Slightly bemused, and without a clue as to what he’d spotted, I slid the fins into fourth gear and off we shot. What happened next was simply awe inspiring. Barely two metres away a humpback whale, adorned with barnacles, was facing us head on.
The majestic 12-metre giant took one look at our rabbit-in-headlights stares and veered right, affording us the most spectacular view. It was then I realised she had a very young calf in tow.
Xander had the foresight to hit the shutter button on his camera repeatedly, and I’m not sure which one of us was squealing in excitement like a girl (definitely him), but within seconds they’d gone. We were then hit, not just by the elation of the moment (cue more squealing and whooping through snorkels), but the power of the water in the wake of “Humpie” propelling all 40-odd tonnes of herself off into the abyss.
I’m not ashamed to say that it brought a lump to my throat and a covering of goosebumps. And it goes without saying, I’ve literally not shut up about it since. As you would expect!
It isn’t legally possible to swim with humpies in Australia, it just so happened that we were already there when this beauty decided to bestow on me a memory I will cherish forever. A wholly life-affirming moment and an experience that I am truly blessed to have had.
Photos courtesy of Xander Mcgrouther.
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