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In pictures: Incredible moment a humpback whale high-fived a diver underwater

August 21, 2018 7:00PM Kids News

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A playful humpback whale in Tonga. Picture: David Edgar media_cameraA playful humpback whale in Tonga. Picture: David Edgar


Reading level: green

Amazing photographs have captured the moment a humpback whale high-fived a diver in a playful underwater exchange*.

The giant creature also extended his flipper and rose out of the ocean to peek at the diving team’s boat.

Sydney photographer David Edgar was on an expedition in Tonga when he snapped the interaction*.

media_cameraA humpback whale plays with a swimmer in Tonga, giving a high-five with its pectoral fin. Picture: David Edgar

“The photos came from a two to three-hour encounter* with an extremely playful adolescent* male,” Mr Edgar said.

“The whale came right up to the boat and would spy-hop* — swimming vertically and sticking his head out of the water to look at us.

media_cameraThe whale spy hopping, which means swimming up and sticking its head out of the water to look at the boat. Picture: David Edgar

“A group of us got into the water and, within moments, the curious whale was circling around us and swimming right underneath us to get a good look.

“He did this for about half an hour as our group bunched together tightly in the water, basically staying in the exact same spot.”

media_cameraThe whale played around the group of swimmers for two to three hours. Picture: David Edgar

The inquisitive* creature’s keenness* to interact* with them amazed Mr Edgar.

“He’d gently place his pectoral* fin out in front of us, and just leave it hanging there as he swam around us.

“At one point, he swam away and collected a group of his whale friends to come over and look at us, too.”

The whale also extended his flipper and rose out of the ocean to peek at the diving team’s boat.

media_cameraDavid Edgar and his wife, Alice, were in Tonga, which is a group of island in the Pacific Ocean, when David took these photos of the curious whale. Picture: David Edgar
media_cameraIt is important not to chase a whale, for its own safety, but this whale kept following and playing with the swimmers. Picture: David Edgar


  • Scientific name: Megaptera novaeangliae
  • Although they are slow swimmers, they’re one of the most active whale species, frequently breaching* and slapping their tales and fins on the water.
  • Adults grow to about 15m, with females bigger than males.
  • They communicate with one another by singing a beautiful song, which can go for up to 10 minutes but is often repeated over and over for hours. The song could be the males’ way of getting females’ attention.
  • They have the longest annual migration of any mammal, travelling from the Antarctic north to the equator to Columbia or Mexico. They travel along the east and west coasts of Australia and through the Pacific Islands, such as Tonga, to breed in warm water.
  • They were hunted a lot because they were slower than other whales but since whaling has been illegal their numbers have recovered and they are not endangered.
  • There are laws in Australia about boats and people interacting with whales. Boats can’t move closer than 100m to a whale and must travel slowly. People must not touch or feed whales. This whale moved towards the boat and the people.

Source: Australian Antarctic Division

media_cameraThis was a young male humpback. Males are smaller than females. Picture: David Edgar


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  • exchange: give or take
  • interaction: connection between two people or animals, communication
  • encounter: experience
  • adolescent: teenager
  • spy-hop: swim straight up to the surface and look around
  • inquisitive: curiosity
  • keenness: eagerness
  • interact: connect or communicate
  • pectoral: near the chest
  • breaching: breaking through (as in the surface of the water)



  1. Where was the whale when it was photographed?
  2. What does spy-hop mean?
  3. What is a pectoral fin?
  4. How big do humpbacks grow? Are males or females bigger?
  5. Are they endangered?

1. Whale of a Time
Use the information about this playful whale in the Kids News story to illustrate and write a comic strip. Your comic should reflect what actually happened but you can add details such as giving it a name and writing speech bubbles reflecting what the whale might have been thinking and feeling.

2. Extension
On a world map, mark the annual migration passage of humpback whales.

Time: Allow 30 minutes
Curriculum Links: English, Geography

With a partner see if you can you identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Describe how you would feel if a whale came towards you and tried to give you a high five. Would you be excited, happy or scared? Use full sentences. No one-word answers. No comments will show until approved by editors. 

Extra Reading in animals