10 Breathtaking Pictures of Humpback Whales Underwater

 
 

Every year hundreds of humpback whales gather in the shallow, warm waters off the coast of the Vava'u Islands in Tonga to breed and raise their young. These protective waters provide comfort to the whales while also giving them a sense of community between their migrations to and from Antarctica.

While not all humpbacks engage in the annual migration to the warm waters of the South Pacific, many use this time as an opportunity to learn new skills and behaviours. Juvenile whales also join in on the migration, as they are able to follow older, more experienced adults and learn how they compete for mating rights, help mothers raise calfs by escorting them away from potential predators, and sing. Whale songs are deeply cultural, as the versus are passed down exactly between generations of Tongan humpbacks. 

 
A baby humpback rolls around at the surface of the water, gleefully exposing its belly to the surface. 

A baby humpback rolls around at the surface of the water, gleefully exposing its belly to the surface. 

Adult male whales compete against each other in a gigantic, multi-hour race known as a heat run. Started by the female in heat by slapping their fin along the surface of the water, the males jostle for position behind her. 

Adult male whales compete against each other in a gigantic, multi-hour race known as a heat run. Started by the female in heat by slapping their fin along the surface of the water, the males jostle for position behind her. 

A playful month-old calf out stretches its fins near the surface of the water. 

A playful month-old calf out stretches its fins near the surface of the water. 

An adult male joins the fray as they compete for mating rights in a multi-hour heat run.

An adult male joins the fray as they compete for mating rights in a multi-hour heat run.

A young calf turns in the water while staring at the photographer. 

A young calf turns in the water while staring at the photographer. 

A calf swims above her mother in the shallow waters off of Neiafu, Tonga. 

A calf swims above her mother in the shallow waters off of Neiafu, Tonga. 

Male whales soar through the clear, deep water off the southern islands of Vava'u in Tonga. 

Male whales soar through the clear, deep water off the southern islands of Vava'u in Tonga. 

A mother pushes her young calf to the surface to help it breathe and provide safety. 

A mother pushes her young calf to the surface to help it breathe and provide safety. 

A large male humpback whale crashes into the sea during a heat run. 

A large male humpback whale crashes into the sea during a heat run. 

A dozen whales gather together to compete in a heat run. 

A dozen whales gather together to compete in a heat run.