When Maui Ciucci tells me we’re going swimming with humpback whales, I don’t fully grasp what’s going on. We’re in a small boat, cruising through the aquamarine lagoon around Moorea, French Polynesia, which is protected by a coral reef that encircles the island. When we head past the reef, however, the water turns deep, dark blue. This is where the whales are—and I’m ready for the possibility of seeing one (which I assume is rather slim) with my camera lens zoomed out as far as possible. But suddenly Maui is diving into the water and, with powerful strokes, swims off into the distance until he’s a dot on the horizon.

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