Bluewater Travel's Moorea Humpback Whales Trip Recap

Bluewater Travel's Moorea Humpback Whales Trip Recap



with Bluewater Travel

Words & Pictures by Ty Oliver


Moorea Ty Oliver


With the lush green Tahitian island of Moorea rising out of the Pacific Ocean behind me, I quickly grabbed my fins and secured them to my feet. One last check of the camera and I was slipping into the water from the side of a rigid inflatable center console boat. Our guide was already in the water, his fist held high in the air to signal that the gigantic animal we had come to see was stationary and resting. The early morning chill of saltwater rushed up my spine as I quietly finned out into the blue. Peering into the cerulean depths, a large ominous shadow appeared below, a small stream of bubbles trickling toward surface from the dark spot that we were now all hovering above. Moments later the giant would surface, the reverberations of a mighty exhale vibrating down through my snorkel would leave me scrambling to get those first shots, utterly in awe of witnessing one of the worlds largest and most graceful animals, the Humpback Whale.

Getting to French Polynesian paradise is as simple as an eight hour flight from LAX. While mostly known as a haven for honeymooners, Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Rangiroa, and Fakarava are also surrounded by waters rich in sea life that make for excellent diving. When asked to join this last minute expedition I simply couldnʼt resist, and soon was packing my bags and double checking camera gear in hopes of adding a few shots of humpback whales to my portfolio.


Moorea Ty Oliver


Talented underwater photographer and friend Erik Lukas joined me in Rangiroa a week prior to our humpback whale expedition. While diving there we encountered friendly dolphins playing in Tiputa Pass, along with a variety of other marine life. Schooling reef sharks patrolled the bottom, while squadrons of whirling barracuda formed pretty patterns in the water column. The reef wall hid many morays. Butterfly and batfish danced amongst the hard corals while napoleon wrasse and large jacks zoomed by above. We were even treated to a manta encounter. It was a perfect warm up to the main event, humpback whales.

A short flight later from Rangiroa to Tahiti, then a comfortable half hour ferry ride to the Island of Moorea and we were all settled in at the Kaveka Hotel. Everywhere we went we were greeted cheerfully by the Tahitian people, their hospitality as warm as the pristine waters encircling the islands. With the hotel dock conveniently jutting out into the gorgeous bay on which the hotel grounds rested, each morning we would be picked up here just a few feet from the hotel restaurant. Easy in an out made for stress free mornings with plenty of time for coffee and a quick snack.


Moorea Ty Oliver


Rodolphe Holler is the owner operator of Tahiti Private Expeditions. His intimate knowledge of humpback whale behavior patterns allowed us many close encounters with these gentle giants. Many mornings after being picked up from the dock, weʼd head out just beyond the breakwater to begin our search. On board the well kept vessel was a hydrophone. Weʼd stop, drop the hydrophone into the water and listen. Only the males sing, and oftentimes booming bellowing and a variety of clicks and chirps could be heard. These were distant males announcing their presence to would be competitors, or simply singing to the females.

Eyes trained on the horizon, the full day search continued for spouts, tails, and the occasional breathtaking breach. According to Rodolphe, humpback whales have three distinct behavior patterns that we needed be on the lookout for. Traveling, social behaviors (breaching, tail and fin slaps, rolling) and resting. When a whale would be spotted Rodolphe would expertly maneuver the boat to a distance that wouldnʼt spook them, then first mate Andre would slip into the water, finning out to where the animals had last been spotted. If they were resting, a single fist would go up into the air signaling it was time for us to grab our cameras and quietly proceed to his position.


Moorea Ty Oliver  Moorea Ty Oliver


An adult humpback whale can hold itʼs breath for fifteen to twenty minutes while resting, while calves must surface every five to ten. Weʼd soon learn that photo opportunities were brief, so it payed to have camera settings ready and locked in. After bobbing on the surface for a few minutes, inevitably those dark shadows below would begin to slowly rise to the surface. The peak of action comes and goes in an instant, and many times hard finning is required to keep up with these giants as a gentle flick of the tail would send them soaring off into the blue. One thing was for sure though, we were having excellent encounters multiple times per day. The best however was yet to come.

On the second to last day we spotted a mother with her calf. While most of our encounters up until that point had consisted of a brief moment at the surface, then boarding the boat again, chasing, setting up, then slipping back into the water for another brief encounter, this was different. The mother allowed us close encounter after close encounter with her and her calf. They would rest in the shallows, then gracefully rise for a breath before descending back to where they had just been resting. This didnʼt just happen for an hour or two, we spent all day with them!


Moorea Ty Oliver


That afternoon was truly special, and certainly the highlight my trip. We slowly followed along as the calf and mother moved out from their morning playground into calm waters with better visibility. If the shot were to be had on this trip this was the opportunity! Over the course of the next several hours we watched in amazement as the mother and calf put on a remarkable show. Rolling, tail slaps, and close relaxed encounters one after the other. When we were all finally back on board the boat elated smiles lit up the Tahitian evening that was now fading into a fiery sunset. Mission accomplished.

Many thanks to Scott Geitler and Bluewater Travel for organizing the trip. Also a big thank you to Erik Lukas, Joanna OʼShea, and Lindy Yow for being great company throughout these incredible encounters. Finally a huge thank you to Rodolphe Holler, Andre, and Gael of Tahiti Private Expeditions.


HOW TO BOOK A TRIP TO Moorea, French Polynesia

Bluewater Travel has many years of experience booking and leading group and individual trips to Tahiti. We can book you on any liveaboard in Tahiti for the same cost or less than booking any other way.

We know the diving, accommodation, cabins and when to go better than anyone else!

Email us at and let us plan and book your next personal dive trip to Tahiti.


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