Giant whale calf nearly collides with free diver in Tahiti

Yanna Xian will likely never forget the close call she had with a baby humpback whale.

Xian, 24, had traveled to Tahiti with her boyfriend Mitch Brown, 27, in September 2021, where the pair decided to take a whale-watching tour, South West News Service (SWNS) reports.

Brown told the British news agency that he and Xian have free-diving experience, which they’ve practiced in their home city of Honolulu. They never expected a two-week-old calf to swim right up to Xian, who was cleaning out her goggles above the surface at the time.

In an underwater video Brown captured, you can see Xian just barely dodge the calf that’s several times her size.

“Whales had been almost that close to us before, but they always had a clear sense of direction which was almost always away from us,” Brown recalled to SWNS, about their trip to Moorea, Tahiti. “This one may have not seen Yanna which is why it reared its head before touching her. As it was swimming away was the time I realized we had just created a life memory.”

Yanna Xian, 24, and her boyfriend Mitch Brown, 27.
Yanna Xian, 24, and her boyfriend Mitch Brown, 27.
Mitch Brown / SWNS

During their tour, Xian and Brown had spotted the calf and its mother resting near the ocean floor.

Xian told Fox News Digital that this was the first time they’ve been in shared water with humpback whales. At some point, the curious calf swam up to their level while she tried to mimic its movements with her hands. The whale had remained at a distance at that time.

“I believe that the baby whale was definitely curious about everything. The moment the whale was getting close, I was fixing my mask since the water had gotten into it, and by the time I put my head back underwater, the whale was right in front of me,” Xian recalled. “All I heard was my name. I was worried everyone was going to yell at me after the whale swam away, but it’s clear from the video that I did everything right at that moment. All I could think about at that moment was to not touch the whale and move out of the way. The gentle giant was very sweet and tried to avoid me”

“The whale clearly didn’t want to run into Yanna,” Brown told SWNS. “And Yanna tried to swim back with her hands instead of feet to avoid kicking the whale. I was more worried the whale would unintentionally hit Yanna.”

He continued, “It happened so quickly that by the time I could react the whale was changing course.”

When reviewing the video and photos they captured, Brown said, “We were all so stoked we got to witness that.”

Xian, on the other hand, feels that the whale calf’s swim up to her might have held a deeper meaning.

Humpback whale calves can reach 16 feet in length at birth.
Humpback whale calves can reach 16 feet in length at birth.
Mitch Brown/SWNS

“There was definitely a moment of connection between the baby and I,” Xian told Fox. “I couldn’t believe that I had just interacted with the baby whale up close. It was definitely a bucket list item that I didn’t even know I had.” 

Whale-swim tours are a popular tourist attraction in Tahiti. The regulated excursions allow travelers to create long-lasting memories with humpback whales and other aquatic mammals in their natural habitat, Tahiti’s tourism website states.

The French Polynesian country is also home to pilot whales, rough-toothed dolphins, spinner dolphins, and many species of sharks and stingrays. Newborn humpback whales can measure up to 16 feet in length, according to Live Science.

Swimming with humpback whales is not allowed in Hawaii since federal law dictates that people stay at least 100 yards away from the species when in Hawaiian waters. This includes boaters, swimmers and surfers, according to Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources.

In a follow-up message sent to Fox, Xian wrote, “It’s always important to know that you never want to touch or chase after a whale or any marine life. Be mindful and respectful to these marine lives as they are very precious. Please educate yourself first and if you are looking to experience and learn about them in their natural habitat, make sure you go with those who are educated and well experienced.”