While taking a dip off the island of French Polynesia recently, a pair of snorkellers were treated to a very close encounter with a baby whale. As the duo treaded water beside a humpback and her calf, the youngster decided to move in for a closer inspection. Australian photographer Eamon Porter captured aerial footage of the unique interaction.

"I love how in this instance nature came to the human. Not the other way around," Porter told the Daily Mail. The calf – curious about the unusual creatures bobbing nearby – left its mom's side, flipped upside down and popped up directly beneath one of the snorkellers, briefly engaging in a moment of humpback-human mutual belly rubbing, before gently moving off. 

"I'm sure the mum knew the humans were close by but she had enough trust for her baby to interact with the humans, despite possibly only being a few weeks old," Porter stated.

Humpback sightings are fairly common around French Polynesia at this time of year as the behemoths migrate north from Antarctica to the warmer waters of the Pacific to give birth and raise their young. As a result, the area is home to a thriving ecotourism industry that is largely centred on whale-swimming tours. Interaction rules and regulations limit the number of tourists allowed in the water and ensure that there is minimal impact or stress on the animals.*

While it's unclear if these swimmers were part of an official tour group, the adult humpback certainly seems comfortable sharing the water with a pair of flipper-clad humans. "She appears to be extremely calm, and thus may be habituated to the presence of people," suggests Dr Joy Reidenberg, a comparative anatomist specialising in cetaceans, adding that the calf's playful antics conjure up images of a "child purposefully stomping in rain puddles".

Pregnant humpback whales prefer shallow waters to give birth, where it’s thought that they shelter from predators and possible attacks dished out by males. Calves stick close to their mothers on whom they depend for protection and food. Curiosity clearly got the better of this youngster and thankfully the encounter was a peaceful one.

*According to a representative of the French Polynesian government, these snorkellers were, in fact, breaking whale-watching regulations. The rules outline that swimmers should remain at least 30 metres away from whales in the water, and if they are approached by the behemoths, contact should be avoided. Visitors to French Polynesia are urged to select reputable tour operators and always adhere to interaction regulations.