By Nelson Groom
Divers were treated to a once-in-a lifetime experience when a humpback whale calf repeatedly glided over their heads and appeared to play in their bubble streams.
Incredible footage of the close encounter last week shows the curious 23ft (7m) calf appearing out of the blue four times in waters off Jervis Bay, New South Wales, Australia.
Diving teacher Chris Wilson, 55, said he had never seen anything so incredible in 20 years on the job – and the group was left in awe at the playful and inquisitive nature of the giant of the deep.
Chris said the acrobatic youngster stuck around to play – with stunned divers waving at the huge mammal as it flipped around them – until it was summoned by its mother with a call and disappeared from sight.
Expat Chris, who is originally from Boardmills in Ulster, Northern Ireland but now lives in Sydney, said: “This was by far the most exciting encounter I’ve ever had with a marine animal.
“It was so close and inquisitive, but it had such amazing control in the water and such grace when it turned.
“And it was enormous, I remember thinking: ‘if it’s this size, imagine what a fully grown looks like’!”
The arrival of winter for the Southern Hemisphere last week marks the official start of the whale watching season in New South Wales.
Humpback whales make the annual journey along Australia’s east-coast from Antarctic waters to the tropics to breed during winter.
After passing Sydney they will give birth in warmer waters near northern Queensland, Fiji and Tonga before returning with their calves in October and November.
Chris said: “We were so lucky, it came to play with us and swam over us four times before the mother called it and it swam off.
“As the calves migrates along the coast, they come into certain bays like this an opportunity to rest.
“You will occasionally see them on the surface, but it’s very rare to see them underwater like this.
“Everyone was so excited once we surfaced. We spent a while looking around the bay, but they were gone.”