Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Tofo Beach, Mozambique, Africa
Visited: August 2019
Lining up on either side of the zodiac we joined the other divers for the call to push the boat into the surf as each wave came. Between waves I watched the soft morning sunlight bounce around the choppy water, taking in the beauty of Tofo. A little too lost in my thoughts, the call for “Ladies up,” caught me off guard, but I did my best to quickly pull myself into the zodiac, a skill I have yet to master. A crew member pulled me over and as I gracelessly flopped onto the deck, I heard the call for “Divers up,” the remaining divers climbed aboard, and we were off for our first dive.
Whale watching is a big draw here this time of year, we spotted the Tofo humpbacks regularly from the dive boat and could hear them singing when we were beneath the water. Day one gave us just a glimpse of the amazing spectacle to come while we were out diving among these incredible creatures and the other sea life in the waters of this charming coastal town.
The waves were manageable this first day, but the chop was consistent and I’m grateful that our Skipper, Manny, is so skilled at maneuvering the zodiac in these conditions. He and our guide, Dawson, confirmed the GPS coordinates of our dive site and we all suited up to back-roll in for a negative entry through the chop.
One very large scorpionfish photographed during our first dive in Tofo
Salon is the name of the first site, here we did a shallow 14-meter dive swaying with the surge. The visibility was not perfect, but it was good and allowed us to spot three octopuses, two large puffers, trumpetfish, lionfish, mantis shrimp and several scorpionfish. For our second dive we went deeper at Sherwood Forest with a max depth of 28-meters. Schooling fish and eels were abundant and a joy to see. This was also the first dive we heard male Tofo whales singing from somewhere just out of sight.
I refer to them as the Tofo whales, because they were born in Tofo, and like most humpbacks, they migrate back to the place where they were born every year to breed and mate. During their time in Tofo, which is 3 to 4 months from July through October, the whales do not feed at all. Once their mating and birthing season ends, they must travel back to their second home in Antarctica to find their main food source, krill. The humpbacks fatten up and put on enough blubber to sustain them for their round trip migration and the entire duration of their mating season.
A humpback breaching just off Tofo Beach. Photo courtesy of the research team at ODYSSEA.
This is why there is such a focus on responsible ecotourism around whale watching. While it is incredible to encounter these beauties in the wild, stressing them or chasing them causes them to exert precious energy they need to sustain themselves; especially humpback mothers who must generate 50 gallons (190 liters) of milk per day for their calves to put on enough blubber and gain the strength to make it back to Antarctica.
In the southern Indian Ocean, Tofo is a hot spot for humpback activity and for researchers studying and supporting them. We went out with Hanno from Liquid Dive to try our hand at photographing whale flukes (tails) and recording their songs. Each humpback’s fluke is unique and recording them is one method used by researchers like, Pierre Gallego, and his colleagues from ODYSSEA, to track the whales and their activity.
Hanno from Liquid Dive photographing a juvenile whale shark.
This was a day I will never forget. Humpbacks are shy and proved challenging to photograph, but we did witness a heat run of about four males pursuing a female just a few meters from our boat. Another whale dove past us when we were in the water, which was absolutely mind blowing. However, all of this came at the end of the day. Not just any day. The best day ever!
The day began with a pod of fifteen dolphins rushing past us while we were snorkelling, which was incredible. I thought our luck had peaked, but it was not too long after that we realized there was a whale shark nearby. Look, I don’t know how your whale shark spotting has been going, but ours stinks, until now. Finally, the stars aligned, the heavens shone down upon us and we experienced our first whale shark spotting. I may have gotten a little carried away, as I apparently stayed in the water swimming along side it for several minutes after everyone else had returned to the boat.
Don't overlook the little guys in Tofo. We saw some cool life around the reefs, including this porcelain crab
Tofo is a remarkable place that has experienced a considerable increase of humpbacks whales over the past 5 years. The whales are not the only creatures who mate here. Oceanic mantas mate May-June and conditions are such that divers lucky enough to be in Tofo often encounter them.
Captain Manny (center) and the crew
We had some really nice dives in Tofo, even with the surge on day one we were able to enjoy a good day out with 10-20 meters of visibility, which only got better as the waters calmed. Tofo Beach is a lovely town filled with friendly locals and a great diving community.
Yellow mouth moray eel
We are very grateful to Liquid Dive for hosting us and introducing us to Pierre Gallego and his crew at ODYSSEA. These people are doing tremendous work. If you are interested in learning more about what they do, or volunteering check out their website. ODYSSEA, Underwater Africa and the Marine Fauna Foundation are three excellent resources for divers and environmentally conscience people who want to help protect our oceans and help them thrive. Please support them as much as you are able to.
Marine Mega Fauna Foundation
A painted crayfish in full bling
Most tourist travel from Maputo to Tofo Beach. We stayed one night in Maputo, and went to the Junta bus depot the next morning, which is about 20-30 minutes outside the main city by taxi. We hired our driver from the night before for 200 rand, which is probably too much so don’t be afraid to negotiate.
The lovely lady barbecue vendors of Tofo
Read our post How to Travel from Maputo to Tofo Beach Mozambique for an overview on how to get from Maputo to Tofo Beach by car, bus and chapa.