Changing Planet

7 Photos of Diving Among Humpbacks in Tonga

Each year, in the Austral winter, humpback whales make one of the longest journeys of any mammal on earth: They travel some 5,000 miles from the cold waters of Antarctica—where they feed during the Austral summer—to the warm waters of Tonga, where they give birth and rest.

Humans, too, are known to dive the waters of Tonga, where there are long-standing and community-supporting traditions of free diving and tourism, though not as much whale research as you might expect.

The photos here were taken in the summer of 2014 by photographer and conservationist Hussain Aga Khan as part of his Focused on Nature project.

And we’re going back in August.

Three humpback individuals undulate through the water, providing multiple views of their impressive form in a single view. (Photo by Hussain Aga Khan)
Humpback Calf
A calf passes below with its fleshy skin and shorter snout giving away its young age. (Photo by Hussain Aga Khan)
Put Into Perspective
The light skin and small body of the calf become more noticeable when compared to its mother at a distance. (Photo by Hussain Aga Khan)
Above and Below
Seeing how comfortable whales are below the waves, it can be hard to believe that 50 million years ago, their ancestors weren’t swimming int he depths, but walking on the shores. (Photo by Hussain Aga Khan)
The Great Unknown
Small fish feed on the microscopic organisms making their home on this humpback’s skin. Below, the sun’s rays peter out in the inky depths of the sea. (Photo by Hussain Aga Khan)
Never Forget a Face
The mottled coloring of humpbacks is as individually distinct as the swirl of human fingerprints, and is used by researchers to recognize specific whales throughout the ocean. (Photo by Hussain Aga Khan)
Here's Lookin' at You
What’s deeper: the ocean or GAZING INTO THE EYE OF A WHALE? [Sorry, you can only write so many of these before you start getting all Moby-Dick about it.—Editor] (Photo by Hussain Aga Khan)

NEXT: Explore Our Blue Whale Interactive

Trevor is a photographer, National Geographic Young Explorer, and Eddie Bauer Adventure Travel Guide.
  • LouAnne

    I just LOVE there playground!!!!!

  • n dinesh kumar iyer


  • Gretchen Colton

    I madly lust after your photos as they can take me away even though I never have to leave my home .

  • joan santiago

    this is how god’s love us! the world is so beautiful. we are so blessed and so special. i feel so thankful the see this and i love you…

  • alex

    what time the best to float with whales?
    it is my dream and I plan the following travel for this purpose…

  • Carol McGuinn

    Thank you for these beautiful photos!

  • kenf

    Ex-cell photos, thank you.

  • Nadira

    Wonderful photos, I feel something deeper (unexplainable) inside me when I see these photos… them…and thank you for sharing with me!

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