During the winter months when large swathes of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean freezes over, thousands of humpback whales make their way north to warmer tropical waters. Though relatively low in the food these giant creatures need, the warm waters around Madagascar and other regions are perfect for raising their new-born calves and performing elaborate mating rituals of visual and auditory displays.
In the seas surrounding Nosy Ankao, humpback whales flock together, the mothers and calves revelling in the easy living and the males singing their hearts out in hopes of winning mating rights. The thick blubber stores that the mothers have built up over a summer of tireless feeding in Antarctica will sustain both her and her calf’s rich milk supply (it’s 50% pure fat and pink coloured!) in these krill-poor waters. Though they’re just the size of their mother’s head when born (a ‘mere’ 6m (20 ft) long and 1.8 tonnes), they quickly grow stronger and bigger thanks to this calorie-dense diet and a daily exercise regimen of swimming and frolicking.
With this abundance of beautiful whales in the seas surrounding Nosy Ankao, guests at Time + Tide Miavana can experience them in three different, wonderful ways. Simplest is to see them from the comfort of the boat, floating beside them as they surface. If you look closely, you can see the mothers pushing their calves up to the surface and supporting them from beneath, giving the babies a chance to rest and breathe at the surface (as seen in this photo below).
If you’re a diver, an underwater encounter is a magical and memorable experience. Beneath the surface, the hidden life of the whales is revealed – the tumbling, the playing, the elegance, the strength. To see creatures this large and seemingly cumbersome moving so gracefully through the water should be on every diver’s bucketlist. Even more magical is hearing their deep, mournful songs echoing through the depths. Sound travels best underwater, so even if the whales aren’t in sight, your dives will be soundtracked by their melancholic songs. Don’t forget to bring an underwater camera housing for the chance to capture the incredible sights and sounds of these gentle giants.
The most thrilling and unusual way to experience Time + Tide Miavana’s humpback whales is with a helicopter flight. Viewing from the air lends a delightfully unexpected perspective to the whales and how they move through their watery world. Watch as they launch their 15m (50 ft) long bodies out of the water in a full breach, crashing down with a tremendous splash, or as they barrel roll around each other competing for a female’s attention. For the best photographic opportunities, fly with the helicopter doors off, which provides uninterrupted sight-lines to the whales below.
For the ultimate once-in-a-lifetime experience, combine all three types of encounters. Come, let us show you the magic of the Time + Tide Miavana humpback whales.
Photos by Andrew Macdonald + Kelsea Lee