All images © Russell Rockwood
We had been trying to get to Tonga to snorkel with the humpback whales for several years. We initially booked on a live-aboard boat out of Fiji and the then Tongan government changed the rules; basically you had to use a local guide service and live-aboard boats were no longer allowed.
It took a couple of years to find a Tongan operator and to get on his schedule. Then COVID struck and the Tongan operator was shut down for a couple of years.
We were supposed to go in 2022, but in December 2021 an eruption began on Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai - a submarine volcano - the eruption reached a very large and powerful climax nearly four weeks later on January 15, 2022. The eruption shut down the operators for 2022.
We finally made it to Tonga in August 2023. The resort was very rustic. The electricity was solar/batteries. The water was collected from rain water. The weather varied from bright sunshine to blustery rain. No strobes were allowed, so all photography was done with existing light.
I had always wanted to dive with the whales, but I never expected to be able to be so close. It was one of the most amazing experiences in my life!
We had several encounters, usually a mother and calf. If the calf was young, there would be a large male escort that would swim between the divers & the whales. We never felt threatened, but a times I got the sense that the male was letting us know that we were close enough. Some of the larger calves were playful and/or curious and would swim very close. There was one pregnant female that was very curious and would swim right up to us.
I got scuba certified in 1984 and started with underwater photography with a Nikonos 5 with an Ikelite Substrobe 150. I used the Nikonos for about 10 years. I grew tired of traveling with film and changing film between dives (on sandy beaches or small boats).
I dove for about 10 years without a camera until I started back with a Canon 7D DLSR Camera, Ikelite FL200 housing & Ikelite DS160 strobes. I moved on to the Canon 7D Mark 2 and now the Canon EOS R, each with Ikelite housings.
I was happy that I had Ikelite install the USB Charging & Data Transfer Bulkhead. Once my camera was setup, I did not have to open the housing until it was time to leave Tonga. I was able to limit how much dust & moisture my camera was exposed to.
Russell Rockwood had long planned to snorkel with whales in Tonga. After many years and many setbacks, he finally fulfilled his dream in August of 2023. He used the Canon EOS R camera with the RF 14-35mm F4 IS USM Lens and the Ikelite DL Compact 8inch Dome Port. Russell currently lives about 35 miles north of Seattle in Washington state.