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Tofua’a: Seeing Eye to Eye with Humpback Whales in Tonga.

In our first underwater shortfilm ‘Tofua’a’ we explore the possibilities of non-verbal communication together with freediver and marine biologist Lucas Handley in the blue waters of the South Pacific.

A special encounter.

When a 36 ton, 16 metre long Humpback whale decides to take a turn and check you out from close up, it feels like someone has pressed the pause button on time. There is no room to think about anything else. Spending time with these gentle giants in the silent, vast blue expanse that is the Pacific Ocean puts everything into perspective and like a child in a playground, you don’t want your newfound friends to ever leave.

Language is no barrier.

We head to the Kingdom of Tonga to not only film in a stunning location but to see how it is to interact with these singing acrobats of the sea. Thankfully, their numbers have recovered after whaling had brought them close to extinction in the 1960s. Vava’u, about five hours flight from Sydney, boasts sandy beaches, clear blue water and a peaceful, quiet atmosphere in its naturally protected harbour of Neiafu.

Add to this a mild but changing weather with often dark, looming clouds, high cliff faces and mysterious underwater caves, and you have what can only be described as a true Treasure Island feeling. It’s not a place that is kind to cars but our C-Class coped just fine. Piglets cross the sandy, often unpaved roads like they own them whilst we pass one rusty, abandoned vehicle after another. Life is simple.

Taking it below the surface.

Tongans smile and wave at you in the streets as if you are their next door neighbour. They are welcoming but they also have a healthy pride: no one will hassle you to buy or do anything you don’t want to. Tonga – unique among Pacific nations – never completely lost its indigenous governance and remains the only monarchy in the Pacific. We have a great time showing the children our equipment and they eagerly pose to have their picture taken.

 It’s a reminder that language barriers and coming from different cultural backgrounds are only an obstacle to human understanding if we let them. But our main mission is to communicate with an altogether different creature: the Humpback Whale.

 To accomplish this and to capture it on film – our first underwater one - award-winning Sydney cinematographer Jon Shaw and champion freediver and marine biologist Lucas Handley as well as cameraman Scott Last join us on this challenging endeavour.

(No animals were harmed in the making of this film. A fully trained and licensed local whaleboat operator was used. We thank the people of Vava’u for all their support while we stayed on their beautiful island.)

Produced & directed by Hadassa Haack
Cinematography by Jon Shaw
Second camera & aerials Scott Last
Edited by Raffael Oliveri and Scott Last
Starring Lucas Handley
Music: “Feel The Sunshine” (Bob Bradley/Matt Sanchez/Steve Dymond/Sarah Wassall)