What would you do if you were scuba diving and unexpectedly faced a huge whale or whale shark? Would you have the guts to try and find out which species you are face to fin with, or would you thank your stars the gigantic creature hadn’t seen you and swim away as long as you still could? Would you coolly get out your camera and click a few snaps? Or tell your camera man to do so, with you as bait? Well, we found some people who did just that…
Would you mess with a 40-tonne humpback whale?
In this image, not only does the diver seem dangerously close to a 40-tonne humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), this one’s also a female whose calf is not far behind. And speaking of gigantic proportions: Mara, here pictured in December 2007, was on a journey from Polynesia, where her calf Kell was born, to Antarctica, making her annual summer migration to feeding grounds thousands of miles away.
A diver eye-to-eye with a calf, the mother vertically in the water below.
This diver in Vava’u, Tonga got lucky filming an inquisitive humpback whale baby. Humpback whale calves weigh one to two tons when born and are around 1.5 m long. For them to gain about 100 lbs a day, the mother has to express about 100 liters of her rich, fatty milk daily.
Whales do seem to eat up nautical miles like airplanes do sky miles. Humpback whales for example travel some 25,000 km each year when migrating! They can be found in all of the world’s oceans and do come quite close to the shore in some instances.
Snorkelling with whales in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.
As larger whales of the baleen whale species, humpback whales can reach lengths of 12–16 m (39–52 ft) and weights of 36 tonnes (79,000 lb) or more. Like a giant, built-in toothbrush, baleen whales have long strips of baleen for filtering food from the water rather than teeth.
Here’s a video of a diver swimming with humpback whales. Warning: it’s noisy!
Not been spotted yet…
Here, a diver takes a closer look at a whale shark (Rhincodon thypus). If you’re wondering what that is on its fin – those are smaller fish, catching a ride!
Image: Jennifer Feuchter
A whale shark against the surface light with a tiny diver on the right in Western Australia.
Whale sharks are not mammals but the largest living fish species, reaching lengths up to 13 m (42 ft) and weights of 22 tonnes (47,000 lb), though according to unconfirmed claims, larger whale sharks are said to have been spotted. But then, if faced with one of these giants, would you really care whether it’s 13 m or 15 m? Huge is huge!
Whale shark surrounded by fish, diver trying to keep a distance.
Whale sharks are gentle giants and said to be the most people-friendly of the lot. So friendly in fact, that a Laguna Beach surfer got the shock of his life in September 2004 when what he thought was a wave turned out to be one: “All of a sudden I just felt, wow, this huge noise and bump,” said [Spyros] Vamvas, “and it lifted my board up. I’m looking down, and there’s just swirling water and I see barnacles on the back of the whale. I’m used to dolphins. This was different. It was huge.”
Casual scuba diving with a whale shark in Belize.
And those who believe that large animals need to feed on other large animals are proven wrong by the whale shark. Its distinctive broad mouth serves the purpose of taking in large quantities of small organisms like plankton, microscopic plants and schools of small fish.
The species originated some 60 million years ago and their conservation status today is classified as vulnerable. Whale sharks can be found in the tropical and warmer regions of all the world’s oceans and live for about 70 years.