Humpback Amore – Image of the Week

by Douglas Hoffman on June 16, 2021

This portrait was created in 2015, in Vavau’ Tonga. I had chartered a boat to swim with whales for 10 days, This was the 8th day and due to a life threatening emergency, turned out to be the last. That morning, we left the harbor and went south looking for signs of whale activity. After a few hours the captain got a call from a friend that told us that there was a logging mother and calf in North Bay, just over an hour away.

So we turned the boat North and upon arriving at the bay, observed the whales hanging out on the surface. After watching several breathing cycles, we got in the water and slowly approached until we were about 30-40 feet away. We made no effort to approach and wanted to let the mother know we were not a threat. After about 20 minutes or so, the baby started getting curious and began to swim closer and closer. While tempted to follow the baby, I maintained the same distance to the mother, which made it easy for her to keep an eye on me. Once she was comfortable with my presence both she and the baby came very close. I’ m not sure how long I was in the water as I was living in the moment, but after a while I realized I was in discomfort. My stomach hurt in a unfamiliar and ominous way. I hoped that it was just indigestion or “Tonga Tummy”, and that after a while it would just go away. But it didn’t, and only got worse.

The female could sense I was having a problem and came within a foot of me. We floated together face to face. Then she slowly moved away for a few moments as if she had something to tell me, and then slowly swam away. By then I was aware something was really wrong and signaled the boat to get me. I had no strength to pull myself into the boat, so the captain did. That was Saturday, and by Monday, I was in really bad shape. Somehow, I made it to a dr., and was told my appendix ruptured, I was septic, and would die without an operation. On top of all that, I needed to be evacuated as there were no surgeons where I was.

So, 12 hours later, a jet arrived in Tonga and took me to New Zealand. The following morning, I had surgery. The next day one of Drs., came in and told me how lucky I was. Looking back I am so grateful to everyone involved in keeping me alive.

Thank you especially to Lisa Molloy & Divers Alert Network for keeping me alive. This portrait is available for purchase and is part of a limited edition of prints.