Swimming with humpbacks: the journey of life

A hunting ban has restored numbers of the humpback whale but scientists warn one-fifth of all mammals could soon die out.

A A A

In the aquamarine waters off the paradise atolls of French Polynesia a diver comes face to face with one of the world's most impressive creatures: a female humpback whale accompanied by her young calf. These images, captured by the French underwater photographer Yves Lefèvre, show how the two whales happily "dance" with their new friend before continuing on one of the world's most remarkable migrations.

"This is one of my favourite pictures," said Lefevre, 46, who took the photographs during a two-hour dive off the island of Rurutu, in the archipelago of the Austral Islands.

"Here you see my good friend and diving expert Eric Leborgne swimming so close to this beautiful humpback whale. Eric and I were diving for more than two hours with this whale which had only one idea – play with us. As the whale became more relaxed with us being close to her, I managed to take this picture."

Every year, humpback whales travel more than 15,000 miles across the world's oceans in search of krill that, despite their tiny size, are the main source of food for some of the ocean's largest creatures. The warm waters around Rurutu are one of the few locations that the southern population of humpbacks is known to give birth, making it an ideal place to film and photograph calves interacting with their mothers.

However, most people who are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of these whales are introduced to the humpback in a much less tranquil way. Watching 79,000lbs of cetacean breaching the ocean surface before crashing back down into the depths below is one of the ocean's most breathtaking taking sights.

The hunched shape their back makes as they dive led to their popular moniker while the scientific community refers to them as Megaptera novaeangliae because they were first observed scientifically off the coast of New England, in the US.

While many mammals teeter towards oblivion – a report by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature released yesterday says that one in five mammals are now at risk of extinction – humpbacks are making a comeback because of a global moratorium on commercial whale hunting.

By the time the ban was introduced in 1966, the global humpback population was thought to have declined by 90 per cent in as little as 50 years of industrialised whaling. There are thought to be about 80,000 humpbacks alive now and even Japan, which, despite international outrage, has resumed whaling in the Arctic, has said that it will leave humpbacks alone.

Its fellow cetaceans are not so fortunate. Nearly a quarter of whale and dolphin species are threatened and, of those, more than 10 per cent (nine species) are listed as "endangered" or "critically endangered", the highest categories of threat.

The Yangtze river dolphin is thought to be the most recent cetacean species to have died out and the IUCN predicts that the vaquita (Phocoena sinus), a porpoise in the Gulf of California, Mexico, is likely to be the next to become extinct in the wild, where only 150 adults are left.

The IUCN describes itself as the world's oldest and largest global environmental network and is comprised of more than 11,000 volunteer scientists across 160 countries.

Its latest Red List of Endangered Species, released yesterday, estimates that up to one in five mammal species, 1,141 out of 5,487, are threatened with extinction.

"Within our lifetime hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions, a frightening sign of what is happening to the ecosystems where they live," added Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the IUCN's director general. "We must now set clear targets for the future to reverse this trend to ensure that our enduring legacy is not to wipe out many of our closest relatives."

Suggested Topics
News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
i100
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster