Humpback whales are famous for their spectacular breaching displays, but the last place you want be when one of these behemoths takes to the air is floating in the briny fall-zone directly below.


On a recent freediving trip off the coast of Double Island Point in Eastern Australia, Connor Lyons and his diving buddies experienced a close encounter of the humpback variety when a mother whale and her calf surfaced unexpectedly. The group were nearing the end of their dive when they spotted a female humpback and her calf swimming in the distance. Most of the group had returned to the boat at that stage, but Lyons and a friend remained in the water.

“We didn’t see [the whales] for a while and then all of a sudden they were right in front of us,” Lyons told 9News. In typical humpback fashion, the calf launched its body out of the water and crashed down just metres from where the group where swimming. Lyons was caught off guard by the calf's airborne antics and barely managed to swim out of the way before the whale reentered the water. 

While humpbacks and other filter-feeding whales don't pose any bite-risk to humans, swimming this close to them can be extremely dangerous. Predicting a whale's behaviour and trajectory is tricky at best, and for that reason official rules in Australia restrict divers from deliberately getting within 100 metres of these ocean giants. 

"A fully loaded semi-trailer weighs 36 tonnes," explains the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. "A fully-grown humpback whale weighs up to 45 tonnes. You wouldn’t stand in front of a moving semi-trailer, so why would you put your boat [or body!] in the way of a whale?"

We saw this in action back in 2015, when a pair of kayakers in Alaska were nearly crushed under a breaching adult humpback in California's Monterey Bay. 

Thankfully, both Lyons and his diving partners made it out of the way unscathed – but the weight of the surprise encounter was not lost on them.

"I got in just enough kicks to avoid the whale, but it just clipped me and I lost my flipper,”  Lyons said. "The force created a little tornado and pulled me under for a second." 

Fortunately for Lyons, the breaching whale was only a calf  If mama whale had taken to the air, the damage may very well have been more severe than the loss of a flipper!

Top header image: Leslie/Flickr