Every year, in July, the humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae swim from Antarctic waters to New Caledonia. In September they swim south again. Like many visitors to New Caledonia, the whales come here to enjoy the warm springtime-like weather and to cavort in the world's largest lagoon. Like many cavorting visitors, the main recreation is the mating game. That's what is happening in this sphere image. Normally these big creatures swim alone or in small groups of two, sometimes 3 whales. But during the mating games other males come around and start showing off.
Freddy and I were sailing from Noumea to Ilot Mato yesterday. Very light winds, blue skies and calm seas - all very relaxing - until I heard a canon go off. Or at least that's what I thought it was. It turned out to be a whale close behind us smaking his gigantic caudal fin on the sea surface. We were sailing very slowly, about 2 knots, and the whales were coming up behind us, heading in exactly the same direction. One of them - a male - kept smacking the surface of the sea. Two others were swimming side by side - one of them was longer than the Moira, our 14 metre sailboat, and probably weighing twice as much. The other was much smaller - I think it was a young one, perhaps only a year old. The surface-slapping male was coming very close to the pair and then moving off. Two other whales were nearby. There was also some interesting rolling going on with long pectoral fins swishing into the glittering sunlight and big whale bodies splashing against each other.
The huge mother and the smaller whale swam slowly alongside the Moira - and I mean right alongside - I shot them both (with my 8mm fisheye lens and Canon 7D) just as they dove together and then completed the sphere image by racing around Moira's deck, taking the rest of the vista, including the other whales - one of them right behind us in the glare of the sun.
I stitched the image as soon as we anchored at Ilot Mato and uploaded it to 360Cities.net. Then I went whale hunting on google and found a really interesting paper about New Caledonia humback whales tracked from space. The researchers followed the movements of humpback whales and their track was, in many ways, very similar to the annual migrations of the far more common giant sea creatures, Yachtus yachtus. Some of these are very big indeed - 30 and 40 metres long - but most are very similar in size to the humpbacks at 10 to 18 metres. Your average Yachtus yachtus swims about twice as fast as humpbacks when making the annual migration to New Caledonia and the other Pacific islands but when they arrive the yachts move about very much like the whales milling around in protected areas of the southern lagoon then moving around to other parts of the lagoon - generally alone or with one or perhaps two other yachts - and in October or even November - swimming off towards New Zealand or Australia.
About a week ago the Moira anchored for the night in Baie Ire next to another yacht we are friends with. And a pair of humpback whales came into the same bay that night - they were singing quietly before going to sleep. The next morning we all went our separate ways. I'm wondering if the ones in the sphere image might include the pair that we slept with last week - still milling around enjoying the lagoon like we are.
New Caledonia is the closest South Pacific Island to Australia and New Zealand. It is a French Territory and although the official language is French the culture is a blend of Melanesian, European, Polynesian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian, and more. There is one large mountainous island called Grande Terre and 6 smaller islands - the three Loyalty Islands, Belep and the Isle of Pines.The islands are remarkably unpopulated and there are vast areas of wilderness. There are hundreds of kilometers of walking treks, camp grounds, more than 42 parks and reserves, and crystal clear rivers with sparkling waterfalls. Almost one third of the population is located in the capital city of Noumea. Nickel mining is the primary industry and is the major contributor to the high standard of living in the country. Grande Terre is surrounded by the second largest barrier reef in the world and the protected lagoon created by this barrier reef is the largest in the world. Listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008, the lagoon is 24,000 square kilometers and supports a diverse and luxuriant fauna of fish and invertebrates.The vibrant, clear and rich colors are one of the first things that visitors notice when they arrive. Noumea has a complete range of hotels, resorts, restaurants, and activities to welcome visitors.