Over the last several months, scuba diving has become one of my favorite activities now that my three best friends on island are all certified. We try to go out for a boat dive at least once a month in what are affectionately referred to as ‘bro dives’. Something I heard from the moment we got here was, “The more you go, the more amazing things you’ll see.” And that has pretty much been the case. Kwaj has numerous WWII boat and plane wrecks and even more plentiful locations for seeing God’s wonderful creation along the reef and at coral heads. But sometimes you’ll hear of someone doing even better than the typical wonder of these islands. It’s the very rare and unexpected things that will stop your heart and last in your memory forever. Those types of events will only come continued effort and a little bit of luck. Yesterday, we got lucky.
We were already excited to take Kyle up to a new ocean side spot up the atoll that we’d discovered during his Christmas vacation when Matt spotted what we all assumed to be dolphins about 70 yards toward the reef. We turned toward them as dolphins are known to come swim and jump alongside boats and can be seen with some regularity depending on the time of year (I’ve seen them about 10 times). Quickly, one animal fully breached the water, but it wasn’t a dolphin. It was thicker than a dolphin with no snout and they didn’t move nearly as fast. We all ran for our cameras and excitedly questioned about what we later learned were Melon Headed Whales.
As we slowed to a crawl, the number of whales began to overwhelm us; nearly 80 or more on the surface alone. I threw my homemade underwater GoPro pole in front of the bow to capture as much footage as possible – you can see much of that here. Then came the question, “Do we jump in?” Creatures near the reef, including sharks, are not something to fear. But creatures out in the deep blue make you think a little more, especially after you’ve pulled up the head of a fish while fishing because the rest now lies in the belly of an oceanic shark. We agreed to stay near the boat and check it out with our snorkels.
The first thing I noticed was the amazing sounds of high pitched beeps and clicks I was hearing as groups of 5-8 passed all around us. As they came near, one or two would turn and look at us but wouldn’t come very close. I wandered away from the boat as my curiosity and photographic desires heightened. I kept an eye out for any predators, but the behavior of the pods seemed much to calm for them to be concerned about being hunted.
We traveled out ahead of the group again in the boat and jumped in as the whole pod made their way past us. All told, we estimated about 500 of these impressive mammals in the group. It took them several minutes for all of them to pass by. My adrenaline was through the roof and it was only after we were back on the boat that I was able to truly comprehend what had just happened.
Surprisingly, there isn’t a ton known about Melon Headed Whales. They don’t hang out in areas frequented by people and have managed to avoid significant scientific study. They are related to dolphins and killer whales, but stay in deeper waters in and around the equator.
A day later and I’m still just as excited about this experience, if not more. I feel so privileged to have witnessed this bit of God’s creation and even more blessed considering how rare the sighting is. It was truly a moment that I will never forget.