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The day we swam with whales

Swimming with whales is forbidden. At least at Caño Island, Costa Rica.

Meaning that you can't jump next to a whale when you see one.

But the whale can, of course, decide to swim with you if you're already in the water.

This is what happened to us last winter, and now that the rainy season has come to Uvita it is time to look forward to the next humpback whale migration, in July, while looking back for fond memories.

Swimming with whales is forbidden in Caño Island. But a whale is not forbidden to swim with you.

Snorkeling at Caño Island? This can happen...

Why can't you swim with whales, you ask?

Well, my dear.

A humpback whale does not expect its long-forgotten cousin to just appear next to her (him? certainly not it?) like that. It would scare her a lot, imagine that!

Also, there's the issue of the boat's propellers: it only takes one mistake to hurt the animal.

And there's the issue of dropping mindless, goofy primates with rudimental plastic fins all over a creature that just swam 25k kilometers to find peace and quiet.

Remember that humpback whales communicate with songs and long sounds? Us bombing from a boat will disrupt that too, and that's not nice when a calf is trying to call her mom, or a female is trying to warn a sister about that pack of young males looking for her maiden's honour.

Wait a second, did you just call me cousin-of-a-whale?

Ah, that. Yes, we share some family with cetaceans. As a matter of fact, humans possess an interesting biological trait, called the mammalian reflex, that slows our heart rate and lowers blood pressure upon contact with water the same as whales and dolphins.

So we are closer to them than most people think.

Ok, so what happened when you were swimming with the humpback whales then?

We were snorkeling at Caño Island with some lovely people, as usual....just another day in the office! And bam! All of a sudden, a female with its calf decided we were not a threat and approached us, swimming side by side until our group of 7 was dwarfed by two gigantic shadows that swam to our left and under the standstill boat.

While snorkeling at Caño Island, a female humpback whale with its calf decided to we were not dangerous and approached us from below

With the adrenaline pumping, we frantically checked with each other to make sure we all saw the same thing and we were not dreaming.

There was no sound, no wave. No background idyllic music soaring.

Just the sloshing of water in our ears and hair strands sticking to the mask.

We did know what happened, but we wouldn't say it out loud for fear making it less magical. And then, there they were again.

Like the loving mother she is, in all her graceful, gliding 30 tons for 16 meters, the female guided the calf to the surface for a short and powerful breath, spraying water directly above our snorkels.

The calf's pupil dilated and contracted, focusing on us: this odd bunch of graceless bodies floating so close to mommy.

With one swift motion their tails went up, breached the surface and propelled with their weight the rest of the body down, lungs full, deep below our bellies, almost touching the sandy bottom.

To the envy of every scuba diver, they skimmed above some rocks and lifted no silt, effortlessly as flying.

their tails went up vertical, above the water

Our heads ducked down, filling the snorkels with water. But that didn't bother us, as we were still, and would be for a while longer, breathless.

They didn't look back, nor they waived goodbye: as quick as they came, so they went.

A few seconds of silence followed. The eyes behind our masks widened.

And then a squeal. Two, Three. More.

We all felt this emotion surging from deep within, a primordial scream of ecstasy and happiness that needed to come alive, the need to let the world know we were grateful for what we just witnessed.

The captain watched us from the boat with an all-knowing grin.

And we all cried of joy.

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