Newsletter January 2004

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1 "Whales Tails" Newsletter January 2004 Hello, I am finally back home in New Zealand after being in Tonga, Niue and Samoa (all in the South Pacific) for 3 months. It always hits me when I return to a so-called 'civilized' country, just how complicated our lives are. I am truly humbled by the simplicity of life in the islands and how happy and joyful people are without all the 'extravagances' we think we can't live without! Another garage sale coming up!! I WOW! What a wonderful whale of a year, 2003 has been. Not only in Tonga, but in our other whalewatching locations around the world. The Orcas in Robson Bight were pretty friendly this season the photo below was taken by Julie-Anne Tan from Germany, during September. Our operators in Churchill Canada are continuing to dazzle our whaleswimmers not only with the cute beluga whales, but with their delicious gourmet meals and magical days and nights in the sub-arctic. Our expeditions in Tonga this season provided the best underwater encounters we have experienced in 5 years of operation there. Here is an example taken by one of our guests, Maria Vinets from Ibiza, Spain. Our leisure days were filled with great snorkeling experiences around idyllic uninhabited islands, hiking, diving, great food and the nights full laughter and fun. Many people around the world are hearing about our amazing Tonga expeditions due to international publicity in top travel magazines and newspapers resulting in us having many early bookings for our 2004 expeditions in Tonga. We have six 'swim with the whales' expeditions, with various accommodation choices some include several nights at gorgeous island resorts on the edge of palm-fringed turquoise lagoons, smack-bang in the middle of the whale nursery! WhaleSwim is growing and expanding, with new members of our Team and new expeditions to Niue known as The Rock of Polynesia. (See Experience Niue & Swim with Whales on Page 7.) Annah Evington, our Australia representative and Humpback Whale Guide Extraordinaire - is coming back down from spending over 3 months with us in the South Pacific 11 weeks in Tonga and 3 weeks in Niue and Samoa. Yes, Samoa no whales BUT lots of dolphins and wonderful land and sea adventure activities among the sheer beauty and colourful-ness of this exquisite South Pacific nation. (See Eco-Adventures in Paradise! on page 7!) The mother is holding her sleeping baby on the surface so she can breathe without having to go to the surface on her own! The mother looked just like an angel with her pectoral fins outstretched, suspended vertically in the deep azure water. The US National Geographic film crew had an amazing 2 weeks filming the humpback whales in Vava u. Look out for the program going to air in USA near the end of February or March Rae Gill and Annah Evington, Vava u 2003 Our new Team Member for 2004 expeditions in Tonga is Sally Lattin, resident of Mullumbimby Australia Sally is a mad-about-whales person and fun too - we look forward to having her as part of our WhaleSwim Team! Remember, I am always available by to answer any questions you may have and I truly hope that you will join us with the beautiful whales somewhere on our planet this year! Happy whales tails! Rae Gill Tour Director WhaleSwim Adventures Eco-Adventures in Paradise! 1

2 Letters from our Guests 2003 Sally Lattin - NEW Team member for Tonga 2004 Where do I start to put into words the way that being near a whale impacts.??? Sobs from the snorkels of grown men and women who hardly know one another...deep deep blue and rays of sunshine seemingly emanating from the depths of the ocean and the most huge and amazingly graceful creatures in the world so close you could touch them!!!!! And then they look you in the eye and roll over onto their luminous bellies cruising past only to turn and come round for a closer look whilst their whale song vibrates and tantalizes every fibre of your being!!!!. I've consulted every journalist and wordsmith I know since my encounter in Tonga and none have been able to help me find the definitive word!!!!!!!! Awesome is the best I can come up with but...it doesn't really come close. Since my return I feel reconnected to a sense of passion and direction that is having ramifications across every aspect of my life, it's amazing how conversations inspired by such a rich experience seem to have the ability to set in motion changes that would have never before been possible. I've just completed my deck hands certificate, am planning ways to connect with local charters to get more sea hours and will soon be working with the people at the Byron Light House to revamp their Whale Information Section. By the time September comes I hope to have mastered the previously inscrutable realms of Digital Photography to try to capture some of the incredible beauty that is Tonga and the Whales. The idea of revisiting the Whales with the rest of the team and sharing in the wonder that I know will be the experience of everyone on board is just toooo exciting. Sally Lattin Richard Hestad - Swimming with Humpback Whales in Tonga Other than leaving Honolulu on Wednesday and arriving in Tonga on Friday (crossing the dateline) The trip has been purely magical. Our First whale encounter... she was a young humpback, 6000 to 8000pounds and 27 feet in length. We slid into the water for one of the most remarkable experiences of my life, and I have had a few... The clear blue water magically lit by rays of sunlight from the Tongan sky. My FIRST glimpse up so close, I was truly awe. So graceful, so gentle so ancient. Past memories rushed my mind. I had to remind myself to take some photographs with my new underwater camera. Then She looked right at me, and I peered deep into her past through the porthole of her eye. My body quivered. Her movements propelled my body like a leaf on the water. I just floated and she curiously kept coming back for more looks at me and my companions. I kept taking photos as she gracefully swirled in the ballerina dance suspended in HER world, the ocean. Time pasted by in this so timeless experience. As she seemed more comfortable with us she began playing like a child. And began frolicking in the water and coming over and nudging us. We were instructed not to go and touch the whales, but what now she keeps nudging us in and out of the water, she surfaces, then dives back down. Now it is a real effort to keep her from nudging and touching us. We are all spellbound. This timeless experience went on for almost one hour. When we got back to our boat we find the National Geographic film crew is now on our boat filming this whole escapade for a story they are doing on Whales of the World, and they just happened to be in Tonga filming at this time at this moment, at this wale. They said that her playfulness was very extraordinary. Interviews of us and all! Watch the Special documentary Feb or March 2004 on cable TV. My body was still quivering.... Aloha and love, Rich Scott Portelli WhaleSwim Photography Group Leader One of the first encounters I had for the season was quite unique and a little unexpected. It was a visual feast of activity both above and below the water. On the surface, three whales were involved in a display of breaching, pectoral slapping and other attention grabbing behaviour, performing for eyes transfixed by this spectacular show. The show continued beneath the surface with choreography of epic proportions. The intimate courtship of a female humpback and a male suitor was in session. I watched with zealous interest as these two giants pirouetted gracefully around each other, oblivious to their audience, including a group of spinner and rough toothed dolphins. It was a cavalcade of marine mammals and I was captivated. 2

3 As this was my second year visiting Vava u I had a good idea of what to expect and was very comfortable in the water with the whales. But one experience with a sub adult humpback whale would out shine anything I had seen or experienced before. disappointed. This was the encounter of a lifetime. I was aware that not everyday would be as perfect as this, but I was on a high that would last, well, at least for another year. After one particularly disappointing day searching for whales, to no avail, we decided to head for home. On our final approach into the channel towards port we encountered a group of four rowdy whales moving synchronously through the water at a remarkable speed. They would surface and four fearful blows could be heard as they circled around the waters between the groups of islands. Their dominating display was remarkable. We put our boat into neutral as we saw the four whales turn in our direction speeding towards us like torpedos. Two whales surfaced at our stern, while the other two proceeded under the hull of the boat. It was a close encounter of the mammal kind. Watching this display was impressive to say the least. There is some behaviour that cannot be seen, but can be heard from up to 30 kilometres away - whale song. While not as crowd pleasing as breaching and tail slapping listening to the haunting sound of a whale while in the water is a surreal experience. As you take a breath and dive just beneath the surface, the sound vibrates through your body. The feeling is so exhilarating it forces you to enter their domain and experience things the way a humpback whale might. As soon as I entered the water with this amazing creature, it was clear that I was there purely for its entertainment. As I approached it was apparent that this humpback was quite comfortable with humans swimming around him. He enthusiastically swam with me I was so close that I had to keep swimming away just to get a photograph of the entire whale in shot. The experience was overwhelming. I would swim side on as I looked in the whale s eye and he would be there swimming with me. I would do a little twirl in the water and I was fascinated to see him also do a twirl. I lifted my arm and he lifted his pectoral fin. As I swam away to get a better photograph he would change direction and appeared to be following me. It seems unbelievable, but this whale was imitating my actions. Perhaps he was intrigued by my bright yellow fins, but who knows what motivates a 25 tonne whale to behave the way it does. When you enter the realm of a humpback, you need to prepare yourself for a range of possibilities. Animals are always unpredictable and every so often they amaze you with behaviour that is indicative of our own social relationships. Slowly we are bridging the gap between our limitations and our ability to communicate with these mysterious leviathans. Tonga is one of the few remaining natural resources that can offer these encounters. I have found my second home. Scott Portelli Julie Anne Tan - Kayaking With Orcas Robson Bight Canada Thank you very much again for organizing the tour. Ralf and I had a fab time in West Canada and the Orcas were awesome! A big group of Orcas swam around us for about an hour the first day, coming really close to us and swimming under our kayaks. One mother had a calf with her. Camping was great and so was the food. Me and the rest of the group were spoilt from the first to the last day. It was also amazing hearing and seeing the Orcas early in the morning passing by while we were having our breakfast at the beach and seeing them passing by again in the evening. Kayaking with the Orcas was the best experience I've ever made so far. Thanks again! Julie Anne Tan At one stage I was so close that the whale brushed his pectoral fin along my legs. It was not aggressive or even accidental, as he was always aware of where I was and often demonstrated this by moving his fins and body around me ever so gently and precisely. It was clear to see that the contact was a conscious action by an increasingly curious humpback. I spent 45 minutes frolicking with this amazing creature but the time passed so quickly and soon I had to say goodbye to this lone male humpback. Nature in all its splendour and I was witness to it. This is what I had come to Tonga for and I was not 3

4 Tonga 2003 The encounters... This year was the best in 5 seasons! The whales seem to be used to us critters floating around in the water! Some of the Mum s with their calves, certainly were. Our 2 first groups of the season had the privilege of swimming with humpback whales and dolphins all together in one large pod it was a real treat. Middle of Sept bought some rain and the whales were hard to spot, this can certainly be frustrating BUT our photography group had an encounter with a juvenile humpback whale, that has never been experienced on our expeditions before. Happy (we called him) was so friendly that our swimmers were having to continually back-off from him no-one managed to get all of him in the camera frame. He spent 1.5 hours frolicking with the group and that was after being with the National Geographic film crew for 2 hours!! Here is one of the incredible photos taken by our Photography Group Leader, Scott Portelli. Yes, it looks like the swimmer is touching the whale but if you look close you will see that his hand just happens to be between the camera and the pectoral fin. Photo by Scott Portelli Tonga has approximately whales in its waters during the season so the chances of seeing them everyday is easy, and most days this year we had in-the-water encounters with them. The people... The people of Tonga are happy, open-hearted and generous. Our Tongan Feast and Dance Nights are fantastic. The traditional food cooked in the ground is delicious there is always plenty of it. The feast also includes a kava-ceremony. Kava is a traditional drink and many of our guests fully participated - some were even seen on several evenings partaking in more kavadrinking at the local kava hall! Consequently, some were worse for wear the next morning!! The beautiful rich singing voices of the Tongan people can be heard most mornings, wafting from the churches (a visit to church is a treat not to be missed!) The weather..... It was kind to us for MOST of the season however, during September the weather was wet and windy for about a week the whales were a bit scarce BUT we managed to experience some wonderful encounters. August was a bit chilly for the tropics El Nino I am told! We had a couple of cases of sunburn SO if you are planning on joining us in Tonga in 2004 PLEASE BRING YOUR SUNBLOCK! 4

5 The Guests... What a year!! We seem to attract really great people on our expeditions and most are pleasantly surprised how the groups gel so quickly. Most of our guests are independent travelers not usually group vacationers somehow this works very well much to everyones delight! We had guests from Spain, UK, USA, Hong Kong, NZ and Australia and all had a great time. and Vava u! What can I say!! It s paradise! Neiafu - the beautiful Port of Refuge Harbour The dawn.... By day.... The sunset and the beautiful islands of Vava u... 5

6 WhaleSwim News! Just back from Niue and Samoa! I have been wanting to go to Samoa for many years now and I finally made it after the whale season in Tonga. Annah and I had 15 days traveling around Samoa s two islands, Upolu and Savaii diving, snorkeling, hiking, sliding down waterfalls and generally having a great time!! Niue was a wonderful surprise! It is the biggest coral island in the world and is situated a few hundred kilometers east of Tonga. It is known to have the clearest water in the world up to 70 meters visibility! I believe it it was like snorkeling in a huge aquarium! The diving is exquisite and the big surprise was the thousands of sea-snakes that live there even though they has a venomous bite, no-one has ever been bitten by them. If you are an adventurous diver then you will love this island s diving experiences! Samoa is one huge flowering garden, surrounded by clear warm, turquoise lagoons, where heart-felt and happy Samoans proudly share their culture and traditions with international visitors. We went for 4 days as we thought it would be enough to see and experience everything we were wrong! Even with Annah and I doing separate activities each day we still didn t do everything.! The buses are brightly painted and are full to the gunnels at rush hour! The Niuan people (just 1400 remain on the island there were 22,000, the majority have gone to NZ and Australia to experience the other world..) - have a quirky sense of humour and everyone waves to you as you drive around the island. (I remember that this was common practice back in the 50 s in NZ the time when we had time for each other.) Niue is the perfect destination if you want a fabulous holiday away from civilisation! The traditional beach fales (accommodation) are right on the beach this photo was taken from my bed!! We are putting together a great adventure experience like no other available in Samoa so Eco-Adventures in Paradise! is about to be launched. We will be working with Jon and Lumepa Long at Moanalei Adventures on the south coast of Upolu for most of our activities and staying at wonderful beach fales and guest-houses around the island over the 6- days/7-night adventure. More details on the next page. 6

7 New Expedition to Niue Island, South Pacific The population of humpbacks whales hanging out around Niue The Rock of Polynesia - have increased to healthy numbers, which gives us a really good reason to have a whale-swim adventure expedition on Niue for the 2004 season! With activities such as swimming with humpback whales, diving (for the divers!), snorkeling, hiking, caving, bush exploration, climbing coral cliffs and even coconut crab hunting at night for those who are game Niue is a perfect destination for an unusual holiday!! WE also include a village tour and Fia Fia (traditional feast and dance) evening, a seafood banquet and meals at various local cafes and restaurants and in particular at Willy s Wash-away Café and that s another story!! Tour: Experience Niue & Swim with the Whales! August see tour prices on page 9. Eco-Adventures in Paradise! - Samoa We are happy to be working with Moanalei Adventures in Samoa! Our first expedition to Samoa will be over the Easter holiday break and then another 4 dates during The expeditions will be 6-days and 7-nights with add-on days if you want to stay longer. The expeditions will include: diving/snorkeling in beautiful warm turquoise water, kayaking, hiking to and swimming in crater lake, sliding down water falls, picnics, glass-bottom boats tours and much more. All activities are optional for each guest. Our accommodation will be at beach fales and guesthouses where you will experience the wonderful Samoan culture and transportation will be by boat and 4WD vehicles. Our expeditions will NOT backpackertype tours - they are for the more discerning and independent traveller/s. The accommodation will be comfortable (with ensuite bathrooms wherever possible - but still enjoy the traditional Samoa culture) and healthy food of excellent standard. We are in process of putting our tours together right now and our website is in progress and will be located at We will you as soon as the expeditions are ready to be booked! Stay tuned! Whale Fact s Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae - Family: balenopteriade). They belong to the rorqual (groove throated) family and in place of teeth, they have baleen plates hanging from their upper jaw which is used to sieve their 'food' from the huge mouthfuls of water. The full grown males measure m (40-48 ft), and the females slightly larger at m (45-50 ft). They weigh tons. Big Travellers! The South Pacific Humpback whales swim 8,000 kms (5,000 miles) from the Antarctic (March/April) to the islands of Vava'u 16,000 kms (10,000 miles) roundtrip!) to mate and give birth each year from July - Oct. On migration, humpbacks may not feed for as much as 8 months of the year. They return to the Antarctic and from December - March they eat around tons of plankton, small krill and other schooling fish per day, sieving the food through baleen plates, made up of fine black keratin, around 30 inches (76cm) in length. They stack on large amounts of blubber to see them through the big 'swim' and the breeding season. It is now thought that many female humpbacks, those who are not engaged in breeding activities in a given year, probably remain somewhere in the Southern Ocean to feed, build up their fat reserves for the following seasons migration and mating. Humpback Calves A Humpback Whale calf drinks around 40 litres of milk every day - the fat content of about 45-60% (human milk is approx. 2% fat) for up to ten or eleven months until gradually weaned onto solid food. Calves stay with their mothers for about a year, sometimes two. This is thought to be due to the necessity of learning complex foraging skills, such as bubble-netting. They weigh 5-6 tons and are about 3-4 m (12-13ft) long when born. Whale Song Singing has been reported only in males, with one exception, where a female was heard to sing. Long complex songs are unique to each population, with each song made up of distinct themes lasting for 10-or even 30 minutes and repeated continuously for hours, changing gradually each season. Song is generally heard during the breeding season, although it has also been reported on migrations and during the spring, autumn and even midsummer on feeding grounds. It has been observed that he song sung by humpbacks from eastern Australia will be sung the following breeding season in Tonga. (Maybe they learn that years 'latest hit' in the feeding grounds of Antarctica!) 7

8 Travel Tips Getting to Tonga and Niue takes a little more effort than flying to an international city in the Pacific rim, BUT it is certainly worth the extra time! We also advise that if you are traveling long distances (from Europe, Asia or USA) that you break your journey with one or 2 nights enroute or arrive in Vava u at least a full day before the expedition begins in Tonga and have a couple of days in Samoa enroute to Niue. The time change and the long flights can take their toll so we advise some extra sleeping time before your expedition! WhaleSwim will have special airfare packages from Australia and New Zealand also from Honolulu for our 2004 expeditions in the South Pacific. We are also working on getting airfare packages ex Los Angeles in a few months we will let you know. Many of our US and European whale-swimmers have found it a challenge to find a travel agent who know how to can book the airfares to Vava'u and Niue. IN the USA, Judy at Sunspot is fantastic! she will make it easy for you. Judy Meyer Sunspots International 1918 NE 181st Ave. Portland OR Tel: (800) or (503) Fax: (503) For Europe, we have a list of agents - go to Other WhaleSwim Expeditions Kayak with the ORCAS in Canada These 3 & 6 day expeditions with the Orcas around the waterways of Johnstone Strait, Vancouver Island are breath-takingly beautiful! Words do not even come close to describe it, so I won't even attempt it! The food is fantastic, the guides are fun and the great thing is that you do not have to had experience in a kayak to participate. Older children are welcome on these expeditions and can paddle the kayak with a parent. 2mm wetsuit!! For her story and for the expedition details go to: Cruise with whales & dolphins around the Idyllic islands of the Maldives Spring and Autumn are wonderful times of the year to be in the Maldives - especially great if you live in the northern hemisphere - a great way to a warm tropical holiday to recover from the cold months of winter. I love this cruise - always lots of dolphins and whales every day and the visits to the villages on the northern atolls with their shy and happy people, will always stay in my memory. The diving and snorkeling is unforgettable in the clear turquoise water around the white sandy atolls. Food is great too! Best of all is the knowledge shared by Chas Anderson, a marine biologist who has spent 20 years in the Maldives studying the marine life. Sue, his wife is a great hostess and the crew certainly takes care of you. Swim with Humpback Whales in the Caribbean The 2004 season on the Silver Banks is about to begin - the humpback numbers are increasing rapidly, which means more encounters each day. I love this 6- day expedition - the Wind Dancer is a fantastic liveaboard and the encounters with the whales are unforgettable. This is where I first swam with humpback whales so it is very special for me. As the expeditions are fully booked up for 2004, I recommend that you book now. Each expedition leaves every Saturday and returns every Friday from Feb - April each year from Puerto Plata. Beluga whales and Polar Bears in Hudson Bay Canada These 6 & 8 day expedition at Seal River, just a short flight, north-west of Churchill, Manitoba, (the polar bear capital of the world) gives you the rare opportunity to be close to very cute white beluga whales. Mike, your host and guide, has 1 or 2 dry-suits available for you to make your venture into the water with the hundreds of curious and playful belugas that congregate near the entrance to Seal River each year - comfortable. One of our clients, Lea Geiger - swam with the belugas in a 8

9 Free Video CD Rom of our expeditions in Tonga Complete and Submit our order form for a free CD about WhaleSwim Adventures and video footage of our expeditions in Tonga. /cdorder.html Your Encounters with the Humpback Whales in Tonga on video!! Marnie Harrison and her Team from Wild Focus Films will record your experience! Marnie or one of her Team will be aboard our whalewatching vessel for 1 or 2 days during our expedition to film YOU swimming with the whales and having a great time in Vava'u. Cost: T$100 per copy DVD or VHS video (NTSC & Pal versions) (This is available to all groups except The Photo/Small Group expedition) In Summary.... Our expeditions in Vava'u Tonga 2004 Whales in Paradise' 9-day/10-nights 6-16 August 2004 Price: AUD$3,495 Deluxe Expedition 7-days/8-nights August 2004 Price: AUD$2,895 Flexible 9-days/10-nights 28 August - 7 Sept 2004 Price: from AUD$2,450 Thank you for your interest in our expeditions!! Whaleswim Adventures is now in our 6th successful year of expeditions. We are the most professional and we work with the most experienced operators and guides in all of our whale and dolphin locations around the world. We are committed to continually striving to improve our product and service to you. The WhaleSwim Team look forward to sharing our extraordinary expeditions with you in 2004! Rae, Annah and Deb. Contact our Team... Rae Gill (Head Office): New Zealand & International Inquiries Tel: (64) Annah Evington: Australia Representative Tel: Photography/Small Group 9-day-10-nights 28 August - 7 Sept 2004 Price: from AUD$3,050 Eco-Adventure with the Whales 9-day/10-nights Sept 2004 Price: from AUD$2,670 Standard 9-days/10-nights 24 Sept - 4 October 2004 Price: AUD$2,095 Whales in Paradise' 9-day/10-nights 2-12 October 2004 Price: AUD$3,495 PO Box 551, Oneroa Waiheke Island, Auckland New Zealand Tel/Fax: (++64) Our expedition in Niue 2004 Experience Niue - Swim with the Whales! August 2004 Price AUD$2,495 9

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