It's behind you!: The amazing moment a couple had a close encounter with a humpback whale
Last updated at 00:59am on 3rd March 2008

Kayaking through the calm Pacific waters of Hawaii, all these holidaymakers were hoping for was a glimpse of a passing sea turtle.

But they got rather more than they bargained for when a mighty humpback whale suddenly surged from the depths and shot towards the sky.

Lucky to see one of nature's most impressive sights, they were even luckier not to be swamped by the huge splash when the whale crashed back on to the surface.

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Look out: The canoists look back in shock as the humpback breaches making a enormous splash

These extraordinary images show one couple calmly watching one of these giants of the sea as it raises its fin.

But when it suddenly slaps it down - sending a wall of spray towards them - they realise how vulnerable they are and think better of their proximity.

Digging in their paddles, they turn away. But the whale becomes increasingly boisterous, this time "breaching" the surface.

Clearly alarmed, the holidaymakers paddle desperately towards the shore.

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Unexpected visitor: The whale puts on a show for a second kayak

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Having a whale of a time: The humpback appears from the depths of the water

In another dramatic encounter, an astonished couple see a humpback soar up out of the water, its vast bulk - they normally weigh up to 35 tons - dwarfing them.

It then twists in the air towards them before crashing down just yards away.

The kayakers had headed off the coast of Maui, where the mammals gather to give birth and nurse their calves in the warm, shallow waters of the archipelago.

It is estimated that two thirds of the entire North Pacific population of humpback whales migrate to Hawaii each winter.

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Breach: The whale warns the canoists away from her baby

Scientists are unsure exactly why humpbacks leap out of the sea.

Some argue it is to scrape skin parasites off their barnacle-encrusted bodies, others that they are simply jumping for joy.

Their numbers dropped drastically with the onset of mechanised whaling, and it is only recently that the population has begun to edge back up to an estimated figure of 35,000.

So every sighting like the ones shown here truly is a gift from the seas.

Live and let live