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WATTS UP | The most unforgettable underwater experience ever

Call it pure luck, because no one could've planned it
Another Humpback whale, this one off of Tonga.

There’s an area just north of the Dominican Republic, the Silver Banks, where North Atlantic Humpback whales migrate south each year to both mate and where pregnant females give birth. Book a dive trip there and you could guarantee whale sightings most days.

About 150 nautical miles to the northwest lay the Turks and Caicos Islands and Providenciales, where I managed a dive shop. We occasionally had sightings as the Humpbacks passed us on their annual migration, but hearing their calls underwater was far more likely than any rare visual encounter.

On this day, an even rarer occasion, as rather than enough guests to fill one, or maybe even two dive boats, we had just one single guest booked. He was an experienced diver with many logged dives, and dive crews, being fairly simple souls, saw this day’s diving as an excuse to visit some of our best dive sites and just enjoy the day.

I chose French Cay as our destination, an hour’s boat ride across a shallow, white, sandy flat with the bottom being only a couple of feet beneath the keel.

French Cay marked the end of the shallows, and the dive sites began in around 30 feet of water, descended to a wall, then literally dropped into an abyss thousands of feet below.

We moored at a dive site called G-Spot and my crew and divemaster, my son Jamie, briefed our guest, then checked equipment, and down they went. As top cover I was there to ensure no issues arose on the surface to abort the dive and recall the divers, and to stay aware of any potential problems, a most unlikely situation.

I could see the tip of West Caicos and just about make out French Cay, little more than a tiny sandbar rather than a real island, and not much else. But then, inshore of our mooring, at maybe 30-feet depth, I noticed some activity and disturbance on the surface that persisted, a bit more than just fish activity.

All too soon Jamie and our guest surfaced and returned to the dive boat, chattering about all they had seen and what a great dive it had been.

With an hour’s Surface Interval to kill, as they took off their scuba gear and swapped their now empty tanks for fresh ones I recovered the mooring and gently motored inshore, towards the surface disturbance I had been watching.

And then the whole day changed, when we could see, quite clearly, a Humpback whale, apparently relaxing in the shallows.

And then the whole day changed, when we could see, quite clearly, a Humpback whale

I told them to get their snorkel gear on and get in there!

Within a few minutes my son, in terms hardly respectful to his father, shouted for me to don my snorkel gear and get in the water.

And I did just that.

There was not just a female Humpback whale but also a yearling and a newborn, a picture I can still see.

As I joined the group the yearling stayed in the shallows but moved away from us. But mother and babe stayed right there, quite content to share their world with us, for a time.

It’s impossible to describe the feeling of excitement, serenity, and a total lack of fear, being so close to such a huge marine creature, in her environment, not ours, who most obviously welcomed our company and attention. Perhaps she was doing nothing more unexpected than showing off her new baby?

And the calf itself was as cute as any new life could be. I still do not know whether the mother prevented her calf from getting too close to us, but I do know that the baby showed the same curiosity as any baby being shown something new.

It was a truly incredible experience.

And to be able to be just an arm’s length from this incredible being, look into her eye and see understanding and real awareness is something I will always treasure.

It was time to leave this little family in peace, and my final and treasured memory is being beside her, then realizing her enormous fluke was right underneath me and she was raising it to the surface.

I have never had a single doubt that she quite deliberately moved it around me as she did so.

I’ve been fortunate to enjoy many memorable underwater dives in my life, for which I can only feel so grateful. But this was so much more—even more than just awesome.