It took the briefest of moments for the excitement to build. The distractions of working life distant. Her back arched and then down below the cresting waves she dove, her tail seemingly beckoning we follow as it glided into the water. I looked at my dive master. “Robbo, jump in and tell us where she goes.” I nodded and I was in.
I didn’t think and I didn’t have time to hesitate. I was on the verge of something truly remarkable. A moment that embodied the word wonderful and I was seizing it.
The water off Niue, a small rock island in the middle of the South Pacific between Tonga and Samoa is warm and clear. There is little dirt or sand on the island to reduce visibility off its shores. Its soft embrace rushed my skin as my mask plunged into the water searching frantically. Sunlight streaming in shards through crystal clarity adding a further tranquillity to the whale song in the sub terrain.
Then I spotted her in the distance. I called out to my eagerly awaiting comrades on the boat and I swam. I swam for all I was worth until I caught up to her. I swam until she was directly below. I swam, keeping my eyes fixed on her. Twelve metres of grace and power. Her knobbly head looking up at me. Dorsal protrusion, bumpy pectoral fins and greyish skin shimmering in the water.
She slowed. Watching me curiously. Almost not moving she floats next to me. I imagine she is as inquisitive as I. Maybe I was the first human she had seen. Closer to the surface she rises until she is about 10 metres below me. She rolls slightly to one side, eying me off. This is when her calf makes its first appearance peeking out from below his mother’s belly. She guides her calf to view this strange looking creature on the surface before tucking him away.
I stop still, giving her the respect of distance from her and her baby. She gave a flick of her tail and shot ahead about twenty metres. Again she arched her large back. I stopped to watch her, expecting her to disappear into the blue when she turned and swam back towards me. Maybe wondering why our encounter had ended, maybe she thought I was too close. I floated still. Rotating in the water she hovered, vertical, opposite me. Her white underbelly and large white fins outstretched. We watched each other. Silently she scanned. I looked away only to grab a quick breath and returning to gaze deep into her eyes.
Then in one swift move, her tail beat and fins pushed in a downward motion. Up towards the surface she rushed. Her magnificent body effortless through the water in front of me. Her head breeching the water as I raise my head from ocean to air. Up she climbed, so close I could barely take in the whole of her frame. Further until her whole body was now out of the water. Almost pausing as if trapped in suspended animation in the sky a metre or so above the water.
And then down, her splash causing waves of wash over my head. Breaking through the wave I choke for air and frantically return my mask to the water.
Looking down I could make out the distant figure of her disappearing with her calf into the blue. I say a silent goodbye and thank you, watching on ‘til the eyes could no longer determine her and my lungs panged for air. I surfaced, breathing in a deep gasp, eyes wide, staring to nothing, treading water in some kind of amazed state right on the edge of where language fails.