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Swimming With Humpbacks

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The roar of the engine cuts out and everything is silent. I hold my breath and scan the waters for a sign of life. Suddenly a glistening black and white tail flicks up and into view. “Go! Go! Go!” screams the Skipper and I plunge into the icy waters. As I swim I look through my mask into the deep and see a giant directly below me – there’s no turning back now, I’m swimming with humpbacks.

Sure, seeing a whale from the side of a boat is an incredible experience, but Ocean Quest Adventure Resort like to offer more than that. Their Close Encounters Tours offer the opportunity to join them below the boat in the deep blue home of the humpback whale in what can only be described as a astonishing, bucket list-worthy experience. For well over a decade, Ocean Quest have operated a full service dive and adventure business with a focus on the environment and their clients. They’re not just your regular tour company, offering everything from boat tours to iceberg diving to snorkelling with humpbacks, Ocean Quest has Newfoundland adventure down to a science.

I arrived at their Petty Harbour location to be suited up with a wet suit, flippers and a snorkel mask. After everyone was dressed we hopped onto the zodiac and made our way out of the harbour. Once the harbour was behind us Skipper Johnny revved the engine – this wasn’t a boat tour, this was an adventure! As we skipped along I trained my eyes on the horizon, looking for the tell-tale puffs of water that come from the whale’s blowhole when they surface to breathe. As we scanned the ocean three playful dolphins jumped and swam in the distance as puffins frantically flapped their wings, trying to fly with a belly full of capelin.

We saw dozens of whales – finbacks and minkes were popping up every few minutes – but we were searching for one giant in particular – the humpback. Humpback whales are generally curious about their environments, and because they are often easily approachable, these were the giants we wanted to swim with – we weren’t disappointed.

We came across two humpbacks who seemed curious about our boat. Skipper Johnny cut the engine and we waited for them to surface. We  held our breath and looked at our lead diver in anticipation –  we hear “Go! Go! Go! Jump!” – and just like that, everyone was over the side of the boat, furiously kicking, face and eyes into the ocean trying to catch a gimpse of our curious friends. At first I saw nothing – a few jellyfish, but no whales – and, just like that, one appeared directly below me. I held my breath as she passed underneath and took her in in all her glory. First her knobby head, her long, black body, the pectoral fin and then, like she wanted to say hello, she flipped her tail up and down and I could see the white markings underneath. I was in awe. It was an image that would be seared into my memory forever.

We swam back to the boat and the crew served up some hot chocolate. As we made our way back to shore the mood had shifted – everyone was quiet, with just a hint of a smile, recalling what we had just experienced. This was a once in a lifetime experience that I can’t praise enough. What Ocean Quest offers is special, it’s life-changing. The crew is knowledgeable and safety always comes first. Travel to Newfoundland and feel small in a big way – make a new friend, and while you can’t text her, she’ll be here next summer, if you want to stop by for a visit. Book your Close Encounter here.