Two locals snorkelling in Simon’s Town were pleasantly surprised when a Humpback whale joined their expedition and swam peacefully alongside them, leaving them in awe with an incredible story to tell.
Clyde Thomas, one of the swimmers lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, shared his experience with us and told us just what it was like to swim with one of these gentle giants.
“It has been a dream of mine to swim and dive with a whale for a while. I have often paddled with whales but there is always so much activity being missed below the surface. It was a huge bucket list item for me to interact with a whale below the surface and see what they are doing. It was amazing to swim and dive alongside the whale as he moved gracefully through the water. Above the surface he looked like quite a small whale, which he was, but below the water he was huge but still graceful,” says Thomas.
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Today was World Oceans Day and celebrated protecting our planet’s oceans and the amazing creatures that live in them. I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life when my dream to free dive with a whale came true today. This amazing Humpback Whale was feasting on plankton in a little cove.
We asked Thomas how the whale first approached them while they were swimming.
“I was snorkelling/free diving just off of Frank’s Beach [just north of Fisherman’s Beach] near Simon’s Town. There were a number of Humpback whales blowing and logging in False Bay but one smaller whale kept coming really close to shore in between the rocks and kelp beds of Frank’s Beach. The whale was feeding on plankton and would swim in very close to shore often approaching us directly from below the surface. It would watch us from below lying still in the water, it would then pump its tail and open its mouth wide taking a giant gulp of water to feed on the plankton. The whale would circle around us for a few minutes before moving into deeper water again. We would then wait about 5 minutes and he would circle back into the little cove to investigate, swim with us and feed again,” he says.
He goes on, “I do a bit of free diving and I have swum with dolphins in Plettenberg Bay and paddled with whales a few times around Sea Point in Cape Town, but I have never had the amazing experience of diving down with a whale and to interact with it for such a long time. What made it really amazing was that he was so shallow, so I could dive down along side him without him disappearing into the deep.”
After we shared the story of this unique encounter in Simon’s Town, many readers expressed how scared they would have been to be in the water with such a huge creature. We asked Thomas if he felt afraid during the experience.
“I felt safe the whole time and was never scared of the whale. He was very relaxed and clam and inquisitive. Sometimes I had to swim out of his way when he lined up on us as I could see he was about to take a giant gulp of water and I didn’t want to be directly in front of him when he did it. But I would just swim a few feet to either side of him so I could be parallel with the whale,” Thomas says.
However, he did have a slight concern about the possibility of another sea creature making an appearance: “Sometimes while I was waiting on my own for him to come back in to the shallows and I wasn’t sure where he was, my mind would start to wonder about sharks and I kept staring into the abyss to make sure there weren’t any close by.”
“The whale was incredibly relaxed the whole time. He was not phased by us at all […] He interacted with us for close to an hour until we got too cold and had to get out of the water. Even after we got out the water he kept circling and feeding in the little cove, almost waiting for us to come back in,” says Thomas.
If you ever end up being greeted by a friendly marine mammal yourself while swimming, here are a few tips from Thomas that might help you enjoy the experience.
“Just relax and enjoy this amazing experience and marvel at these majestic animals. They seem to have a remarkable ability to know exactly where their giant bodies are in relation to you the whole time, and even though they may come in very close to you I like to think they know exactly where you are in relation to them. The whale would often tilt his eye up to us and stare at us as he swam past,” he says.
We asked Thomas if he would be up to swimming with a whale again.
“1000%, I would take any opportunity I could to swim with a whale, I do not think it would ever get old. One of my dreams is to go diving with Orcas in Norway.”
Pictures: Riaan Coetzer