Updated: Mar 14
A lot of things pushed me to move to Hawaii. I fell in love with the blue ocean ad green mountains, the reefs, and the sharks made my career as an underwater photographer so exciting and rich in adventures. In the winters as the water turns colder and the sky is scattered with clouds, the ocean fills with my favorite sound in the world: the song of the humpback whales returning to Hawaii for their mating season. And even though Maui is the most popular for humpback whale sightings, Oahu is just as spectacular.
Between November and May, all of us working on the ocean start looking at the blue horizon with a little more attention and so much anticipation, listening a little harder when we are underwater until it finally happens. A few days ago I got to see the first two humpback whales of the season, and even if the songs are still silent, it marks the beginning of one of my favorite parts of the year, making work so much more exciting than it already is.
But what does that mean for us underwater photographers? As much as I enjoy sharing the water with these incredible ocean giants the law and their skittish nature require a lot of care and caution. Getting to swim with humpback whales in Hawaii is so rare as they are timid and they are federally protected. Occasionally it happens that a giant shadow comes out of the blue and swims toward you. So what do you do next? Just like with dolphins, chasing will not do your photos any good. The whale will swim away spooked, you will end up with a number of tail shots of an animal trying to get away from you (and possibly a heart attack) and you could be fined for disturbing the protected humpback.
So what is the correct behavior to have here in Hawaii? just sit still and let it happen. No chasing. No diving on the whales. At the very least you will end up with far but well-composed photos and best case scenario, that whale will keep swimming towards you for a beautiful font and full body photo. And at that point, it's on you to battle the biggest of the struggles for all of us underwater photographers: get the shot while you are the happiest you have ever been as the most epic moments unfold before your eyes. But that's a topic for a different blog post.