Diving with whales and why I won’t to do it again

Diving with whales

At the end of August 2018, in Mayotte in the Indian Ocean. I make a stop in M’Tsamboro to finish my discovery of this island at the end of the world where I hope to make my dream come through, diving with whales.

I had the opportunity, at the beginning of my stay, when I was on the side of the S pass, to see up close but briefly a whale and its cub. On the other hand, I was accompanied during my stay in the south of Mayotte  by the song of whales during one of my dive. Here, I dream of crossing one, longer, and being able to observe it while taking the time… My time.

La plage de M'tsamboro, un bon départ pour plonger avec les baleines ?
M’Tsamboro | © Different Dive

Find someone to take me diving with whales in Mayotte

Since I haven’t booked anything (I’m sometimes distracted), I contact several operators. Unfortunately, all leave early from Mamoudzou and therefore, it’s impossible for me to join them.

I am a little upset but not discouraged at the idea of finding a solution. This will come through a fisherman. He offers to take me and my partner the next morning from M’Tsamboro. Great !.

At the time, I didn’t know much about the approach of whales. I just know what Philippe told me about Bandrélé. I only know that you can’t be more than 2 boats around a whale. Similarly, we can’t get too close to them. That’s fine with me.

Hélène montre les îles Choazi au large de M'Tsamboro à Mayotte
Là-bas | © Different Dive

Meet a whale and his calf

We have an appointment with José, the fisherman, early in the morning. We took care to have a picnic and enough water to drink for the day. From then on, we boarded his small boat, which soon took us out to sea. José briefs us on how we wil approach a whale.

Very quickly, he sees in the distance a boat. I don’t pay attention to it. I let the luke warm wind whip my face: I feel good.

There! Says José.

I turn around and look in the direction he’s pointing us. From a distance, I have the impression that a tree is drifting on the waves. José explains that it is a whale, rather large and that it is with its calf. The joy and excitement of the moment takes in a second. And I only need a little time to put on my fins. But also to put on my mask and take my snorkel.

José, who is in radio contact with the captain of the other boat, reminds us the instructions:

You see the group there, you join them and you stay close to them. You can't get any closer to the whale, okay?

Perfect, we’ll do it like this.

We slip into the water without splashing and José hands me my camera that… chooses this precise moment to break down. The screen is just black. The camera is on but I have no idea if it will take a picture or not. I am determined to especially enjoy the present moment. I’s maybe “too bad for the pictures”, we shall see later.

We quickly join the group whose instructor asks us to place us to his left. The rest of the group is to his right.

I put my head under water and see it

A huge humpback whale. Huge and motionless. With the tail fin resting on the surface of the water, the animal probably between ten and fifteen meters long has its body facing 45 degrees downwards. We are on his left side and observe it in all its length. At the side, a calf seems to give him a hug. (It’s probably anthropomorphism but it’s the impression it gives). We are all subjugated and silent. I try some shots without any idea of the result … If there is a result.

As my partner, lost in contemplation, does not use his camera, I ask him to lend it to me. As he picks it off his wrist, I put my head back under the water and see the whale’s movement.

Right on us

Watch out, I exclaim, whale!

Without warning, the whale made a 90-degree turn and is heading straight for us.

Une baleine aperçue lors d'une plonger avec les baleines à Mayotte
En avant | © Different Dive

The instructor urges people in his group to quickly move to his right. Within seconds, I realize that we will not have time to follow the movement and we quickly kick to the left to deviate from the whale’s trajectory.

And now everything’s going very fast. We see that the space left between us and the whale will be OK but we will be stuck between it and its calf what we dread. Together, we give back a few more kicks and see the calf and its mother pass right next to us. So close so that we could almost touch them. I press randomly to trigger my camera. But I focus mostly on the emotion that overwhelms me.

Une baleine et son baleineau
Près de maman | © Different Dive

What an extraordinary encounter! The moment is so fleeting that I did not have time to realize the danger. With a few strokes of fins, the whale will position itself a hundred meters further. Each one gets back on their boat and the captains of the two boats decide to leave this whale and its calf in peace.

Plonger avec les baleines à Mayotte et observer une femelle avec son baleineau qui s'éloignent
Partis en un coup de nageoires | © Different Dive

“Whale Race”

This is followed by a (too) long moment of what I call the “whale race”. The boats are numerous, they are everywhere. Everyone communicates with the others: nothing here, a glimpse there… I don’t feel comfortable in this type of activity. I like the spontaneous, the fortuitous. And I realize that this agitation must be very annoying and/or disturbing for humpback whales that need to rest with their calves.

Around noon, we ask José to let it go. Instead, he offers to take us around the Choazil Islands. There, we start snorkeling with pleasure and delight.

Le jour se couche sur M'Tsamboro après une journée où l'on a plonger avec les baleines à Mayotte
Coucher de soleil sur M’Tsamboro | © Different Dive

Diving with whales: what do I get out of this experience?

My biggest dream as a diver is definitely to meet a humpback whale in the open water during a dive. I had already had the opportunity to cross the road of a whale in Polynesia. Yet here, the experience of this whaling race has given me a mixed feeling. Of course, seeing this huge marine mammal was amazing, beautiful, wonderful. But was the game worth it?

I appreciate being able to jump into the water with dolphins that come to see us around the boat. (And who leave when they decide to do so). But for whales, it seems very different to me. They are present in the warm waters of Mayotte to allow their calf to grow and become strong enough for the future. So it seems to me that they need peace and quiet and not to be hunted down for our greatest pleasure.

Very clearly, I will not repeat this type of experience

Since September 2018, the rules for approaching marine mammals in Mayotte have been tightened and the rules of the Mayotte Marine Natural Park described below should be respected.

Règles d'approches pour plonger avec les baleines à Mayotte
Règles d’approche des baleines | © Parc Naturel Marin Mayotte

Do you like diving with whales? Have you ever had the opportunity to experience this?

Tell us this in a comment below directly on the blog to share your opinion with as many people as possible.

And above all… Don’t forget to be happy 🤗

Hélène

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