Phil Giriodi: Diving with Whales

By Guest Contributor December 7, 2014 02:10

whale Another FANtastic
Tale of Adventure 

By Phil Giriodi

The gargantuan humpback whale shot out of the water like an oversized surface-to-air missile. His trajectory was short as he fell back into the warm, blue waters of the Pacific Ocean near our boat, three miles off the coast of Lahaina, Maui.

This was an astoundingly beautiful sight as I quickly donned my flippers, mask and snorkel and quietly slipped over the side of the research vessel. The two marine biologists on board nonchalantly compared notes from their previous expedition while I stuck my head underwater and searched for more whales.

The water was warm and cobalt blue in color and I could see at least 200 feet below me. I took a deep breath, exhaled and slowly descended straight down. As I did I heard this beautiful alien music that seemed to be coming from far below.

I swam deeper toward the sound and suddenly before me was the most beautiful humpback whale hanging motionless upside down, singing. I could feel the vibrations of her every note flow throughout my body. There were just the two of us and for me it was love at first sight! Happily she wasn’t even aware that I was nearby gazing upon those beautiful, graceful lines that so many lovely women have, especially while swimming.

I wanted so badly to join this beautiful whale in some sort of a duet but then I can’t even sing one note on key in the shower. The air in my lungs was rapidly depleting and I had to start my ascent toward the surface and back into my own world. As I reached the surface I took one last look below as she slowly descended into deeper waters. This was one of those rare and treasured moments. I often think of her and hope that somewhere in some distant ocean she is still singing that haunting solo. She was truly beautiful and so is my cherished memory of her.

I was privileged to be granted permission to come aboard the scientific research vessel and to be able to legally dive with the whales. The scientists as a special favor listed me as a designated agent, thus cutting through all of the red-tape formalities that one must go through in order to swim with these wonderful creatures.

The humpback whales make the long journey from the cold North Pacific Ocean to the warm waters of Hawaii in order to birth their young. Watching a whale breach close to our boat provided us with another perspective of these superb creatures. The on-board scientists indicated that breaching may be just for play or possibly used to loosen skin parasites. Some scientists believe it to be a means of socially communicating with other whales. Whatever the reason, it provided us with a grand, up-close performance.

Later that same day we sailed to a new location further off shore. Once again I slipped silently over the side of our boat and treaded water. I kept my face under the surface looking and hoping to have another encounter with a massive beauty. It wasn’t long before I was blessed once again. About 150 feet below me was another magnificent Humpback swimming straight toward me. She was enormous and beautifully graceful!

For whatever reason I didn’t feel a moment of fear as she rapidly approached from below and headed directly toward me. Swimming close beside her was her exact replica, only in miniature. It was a mother and baby headed my way. I remained motionless, hoping that she would veer away at the last moment. I could only imagine the consequences of having a head-on encounter with a massive whale protecting her calf.

She didn’t disappoint me! When she came within about 20 feet she veered to my left while slowly flapping her long, graceful tail. Her little calf briskly flapped its tail in order to keep up with mother. As they glided passed me the mother kept her left eye fixed directly upon me making certain that I meant no harm. Harm a whale? Who was I kidding? Again I remained motionless while gazing with absolute delight. With her passage the water temperature suddenly dropped about 15 degrees as the two of them slowly swam out of sight.   Phil_Giriodi_Retired_CBS_Photojournalist_

Even now it is impossible to fully describe the feelings that I had at that moment. It was a gift, a whale of a gift. My feelings ran the full spectrum of awe, love, beauty and a privilege that very few people ever have. Graceful and magnificent, whales inspire admiration in all who witness this marvelous sight. There haven’t been many days that have compared to this one.

Retired CBS photojournalist Phil Giriodi lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.





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of Friends and Neighbors Magazine, available at these locations and by subscription.


By Guest Contributor December 7, 2014 02:10
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