Snorkelers enjoyed a Vava’u whale watch with a humpback breaching only feet away from them!

whale breach in Maui

Underwater photographer Beau Pilgrim had the experience of a lifetime when a 40 ton, adult Humpback Whale breached, landing meters away, while swimming and photographing. (Unfortunately, the video and photos are no longer on this site due to our license running out.  Instead, enjoy these other amazing Maui whale watch photos.)

Beau travelled to Vava’u in the north of Tonga to photograph the Humpback Whales with Scott Portelli’s  Swimming With Gentle Giants. “We were swimming with the pair of whales for 45 minutes before the impressive show” said Pilgrim. “The female was quite shy and was staying deep, while the other more playful male, would come to the surface every few minutes to say hello. On the last ascent to the surface, the male accelerated fast towards me breaching just meters away. All the movements previously were slow but when it was swimming fast towards the surface, I only just managed to start recording on my GoPro camera seconds before the whale went sky high. The GoPro was mounted to the top of my water housing. In the video you can hear my DSLR camera taking photos in rapid fire. I was shooing on a zoom lens so the photos were quite close. The GoPro did a great job capturing the action with the fisheye lens. Straight after the whale landed, the adrenaline levels were high and we were all cheering and screaming to each other.”


Local Tongan and “Whales In The Wild” guide, Sione Fifita said he’s never experienced anything like it. “I’ve seen a lot of calves breach close by in my 12 years of guiding, but I’ve never seen an adult breach so close to swimmers. At first I thought the whale landed on Beau before realizing it was just meters away.”

whale underwater

Pilgrim continued to say,  “It was the most incredible rush of adrenaline seeing such a huge creature airborne landing right beside me. At the last second, I was back paddling to get away from where it was going to land. It was a massive thud sound as it hit the water and I was hit by a wave of backwash.”


Each year, Humpback Whales migrate to warmer waters where they mate and breed from July through to October. The islands of Tonga provide the perfect playgrounds for new born calves to test the waters before the long trip back to Antarctica in October/ November. This year its estimated there are more than 50 mother and calves Humpback Whale pairs in the Vavau region.   Here in Hawaii, we enjoy the opposite whale season with humpbacks visiting December through April.

We’re incredibly grateful that Beau and his friends were out this day and managed to capture such powerful images and video.

whale breach sequence

The only footage we’ve ever seen that comes close to this was on our spearfishing trip at Olowalu off the west coast of Maui, Hawaii.  We were moments from jumping off our 10-foot zodiac to spearfish when we got mugged by an adolescent humpback whale!  It was unreal.  Watch as two grown men giggle like school girls while this whale bumped our boat over and over again.

December is just around the corner, so we’re pretty excited about whale season here on Maui.  If you’re looking to do a whale watch, here’s a solid list of Maui whale watch boats.