What is a soft-in-water encounter? “A soft-in-water encounter is not scuba diving, nor is it aggressive swimming or free diving. It is passive, non-aggressive floating at the surface, in mask, fins and snorkel, allowing the whale to develop an interest in humans. It is finding a cooperative, tolerant and/or curious whale and meeting that whale in the water, calmly and peacefully, permitting a rare and treasured encounter between human and cetacean.” -Tom Conlin
In other words, we let the whale choose to interact with us, and to largely set the terms of the interaction. The first several minutes of each encounter require informed care. Humpback whales are extremely acoustic animals, so it is important to minimize noise when preparing to enter the water, and when in the water. Proper approach is also important; swimming after the whale (as opposed to quiet, non-aggressive approach) will often cause them to turn and leave the area. If you follow your guide’s instructions and adhere to the soft-in-water encounter techniques, you will have a good chance of turning a brief glimpse into a meaningful encounter that lasts hours.
Prolonged encounters are the goal, and when they happen your naturalist guide will instruct you on what you are able to do and what you are not able to do. Each whale is different and no encounter is exactly like the last. Certain behaviors are consistent from whale to whale, but it is up to your guide to distinguish what in-water approaches are appropriate in a given situation. The extensive in-water experience of our naturalist guides is one of the reasons why our expeditions are so successful and why we have longer and more frequent encounters than all other operators in the area.