ON OUR WAY TO SOCORRO, we were delighted by dolphins riding our bow wake, and thrilled by humpback whales breaching in the distance. Some of us envisioned haunting whale songs piercing the silence of our dives. We couldn’t begin to fathom the rare treat that awaited us.
Set a course 250 miles south of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and in 23 hours you will arrive in the Revillagidedo Islands commonly referred to as “Socorro”.
At Roca Partida, a single rock pinnacle 70 miles from the nearest island, several adult humpback whales were surfacing so near that we felt the boat rock – the sound of their gasps resonated in our ears.
On spotting a mother humpback with her calf we scrambled into the pangas with our fins and snorkels to attempt to catch an underwater glimpse.
Strangely, this mother humpback wasnt threatened, alarmed or annoyed by our presence.
So we had ample opportunity over the next two days to be entertained and delighted as she taught her newborn the “Basics of Being a Whale”.
Whales are mammals, like humans. And like humans, whales breathe air. However, by living in the ocean, whales need to plan their breathing and learn how to breathe efficiently.
And, like freedivers, young whales need to train to hold their breath for extended periods of time.
Being less than 6m in length, this neophyte whale would effortlessly rise to the surface for a breath.
Lots of splashing on the surface appeared to be playfulness, but may have actually been clumsiness.
As its young, one-ton body was mostly baby-fat, the calf was simply too buoyant. And, much like an under-weighted diver, the calf would need to raise its tail and kick down to its mother waiting 18m below.
The calf would then gently slide underneath and wedge itself under its mothers chin. The mother cradled the baby between her two long, wing-like flippers. Her weight prevented the pair from ascending to the surface while the calf practised holding its breath for as long as it could.
Both mammals would remain motionless, conserving energy for several minutes. At times it was funny viewing the duo from the surface, because it appeared that the calf was resting in the mothers mouth.

THE CALF WOULD COME to the surface three or four times before the mother needed another breath, and many times the playful calf would check out the enamoured snorkellers waiting there during their surface intervals.
During this time the youngster would come very close to us, making it possible to see the curiosity in its eye.
Whenever the mother needed a breath, the duo would gently swim off to another location near the pinnacle.
Using smooth, powerful strokes, mother and child would leave the awestruck snorkellers far behind.
At other times it seemed that a navigation certification was being earned as the mother would take the calf several thousand metres away from Roca Partida in many different directions, only to have the calf navigate the couple back to the pinnacle.
During those occasions, some fortunate divers were able to see the couple swim by in the deep.
The calf seemed to be a quick learner. I am not sure what other standards still needed to be met, but I feel confident that in the 8-11 months while it is being weaned, this beginner will earn a “Full Whale Certification”.
When you do a lot of diving, it is very easy to slip into a “been there, done that” frame of mind. Interacting with these magnificent and majestic creatures would rejuvenate and humble even the most veteran diver. We all felt very fortunate to be able to experience this, perhaps, once-in-a-lifetime event.