Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text:
It happened in the Society Archipelago, near the island of Maupiti, ocean side, of course.
It was during a diving trip, with the adorable Lionel Clin, instructor of Maupiti Nautique [EDIT: the diving center of Maupiti is now called Maupiti Diving and it is run by Yannick and Nelly]. It is the only structure on the island to do scuba diving (well, "structure" is a big word, let's say that it is Lionel's house which acts as a center, and, to dive, you just have to contact him : he organizes everything for you, he comes to pick you up and takes you to his boat).
That day, there are four of us on the boat: a couple of French divers, Emmanuelle and Bruno, Lionel and myself. We have just finished our dive.
Still soaked, we prepare to return to the island when Lionel spots the grey back of a whale, between two waves.
Quickly, I take back my fat waterproof box containing the camera, with which I have just made pictures under water.
I don't have time to wipe the dome, on which the drops are still streaming. With the weight of the box, the swell and the drops of water, the pictures will be rotten, but never mind.
We are scanning the waves, when suddenly, very close to us, on our port side, there is this strange noise: "Pfffff... pschiiit..." Barely 2 meters from the boat's hull, we see a whale appear!
Or rather, a whale calf. Yes, it is smaller than the whale seen further away (the mother, presumably), but still a nice size! Probably bigger than our boat.
Not shy at all, he came to see us up close, really close - you can see it on one of the poor pictures I managed to take, since there is even Emmanuelle's blond hair in the frame, in the left corner...
We have just the time to see his little curious eye, for a brief moment, and here he is diving! He probes under the boat, disappears, and comes out on the other side, on starboard! He remains a little on the surface, taking his distance, this time, then disappears again under water.
We hesitate one moment to put ourselves in the water, in flippers-mask-tuba only, to try to see again the whales, but the waves and the current dissuade us from it.
We return, overexcited, amazed... Not returning from our luck.
The breath of the whale
Since I've been scuba diving (my first bubbles date back to 1999), I've been lucky enough to cross paths (on a boat or underwater) with some of the big beasts that live in the sea: dolphins, sharks, moonfishes, manta rays and even whale sharks (well, ONE whale shark, in Richelieu Rock, Thailand, in 2006)…
But I had never met a whale before.
So, inevitably, it is something to see emerging from the water, very close to the boat, the huge gray and dripping back of a big beast that goes "Pffff..." Even before being impressed by the spectacle, by the size of the animal, I am touched, overwhelmed, by its breath.
There is nothing more moving than this hissing, this breathing out, which means: this beast is not a fish, this beast is like me, it breathes air, just like me...
In short. I met my first whale in Maupiti, Polynesia. And I still can't get over it.