Freediving With Sperm Whales and Dolphins

Get lost in this incredible collection of undersea photos of playful sea creatures.
A sperm whale moves slowly in the Indian Ocean
Taking it easy © Alexandre Roubaud
By Alison Mann

While diving in the Indian Ocean, French freediver Alex Roubaud has had the enviable adventure of swimming with a family of sperm whales. Fortunately, Roubaud is also a top photographer so he was able to document the experience. Browse through some of his amazing images of the graceful creatures below for a taste of what he saw.

Roubaud's wife Pamela is Mauritian and the couple is currently based in Mauritius, which gives them the chance to spend a lot of time swimming and learning about sperm whales. The more time they've spent exploring, the more amazing interactions they've had with the sea dwellers.

Watch Roubaud freedive with the whales below:

“Mauritius and Réunion are great spots for freedivers," says Roubaud, "as the Mascarene Islands welcome whales and sperm whales during their reproduction cycles. There are also lots of dolphins and sharks.”

A huge sperm whale in the Indian Ocean
A huge sperm whale in the Indian Ocean © Alexandre Roubaud

“These pictures were taken during a very special and lucky dive," he adds. "It was not the first time that I had dived with them, but it was the first time there were so many individuals — about 30 — and they were so friendly.

“When we arrived they were sleeping vertically at [about 16 feet of] depth and we started to slowly freedive along their bodies. It was a really cool experience. They looked so quiet, peaceful and beautiful. After a moment they woke up and started to play together and with us for more than two hours.”

The biggest sperm whales can reach 65 feet in length. Get an idea of the scale in the photo below:

A diver admires a sperm whale
A diver admires a spermwhale © Alexandre Roubaud

As the sperm whales adapted to the divers' presence, they relaxed. Alex and Pamela witnessed an experience saved only for those who are willing to put time in with the whales.

Sperm whale in the Indian Ocean
Sperm whale in the Indian Ocean © Alexandre Roubaud

“The most magical moment was when an adult accompanied by two younger sperm whales started turning around each other," says Roubaud. "They started scratching their mates, playing happily together.”

“I had the chance to be really close, about 2-and-a-half feet from them. They decided to stay with me and we swam along for a moment,” he adds.

Playful sperm whales in the Indian Ocean
Playful sperm whales in the Indian Ocean © Alexandre Roubaud

The dolphins of Satya Lagoon

Roubaud often freedives and shoots photos with fellow French diver Alex Voyer, who has been busy snapping dolphins in the Egyptian sea lately.

Freediving with dolphins in Egypt
Diving with a graceful dolphin © Alex Voyer

Voyer was teaching a freediving course in the Red Sea with his girlfriend and fellow freediver Marianne Aventurier. The dive at Satya Lagoon is well known for the interactions divers receive from the wild dolphins using the spot to rest.

Freediving with dolphins in Egypt
Joining in the party © Alex Voyer

Voyer explains their first dive: “The bell rings at 5:30 a.m. and the dolphins are there at the foot of the boat. At 6:00 a.m. we are going in the water with a pod of about a hundred dolphins, just for us. The majority of the dolphins seem to sleep and are easy to follow. Once awakened these animals are playful and even seem interested in us.”

As tourist boats began to arrive, he noticed the dolphins getting less cooperative.

And yes, you can also swim with turtles ...

Freediving with a turtle in Egypt
Wonder who won that race? © Alex Voyer

Voyer added that he loves swimming with sea creatures and is keen to pass on this passion, but also wants to pass on his deep respect for the ocean. “Swimming with dolphins or to meet other marine animals remains the dream of many divers and snorkelers. It is our responsibility not to take it to excess if we want to keep healthy oceans.”

Freediving in Egypt
Freediving in the Red Sea © Alex Voyer

Roubaud adds that each freediving experience is totally unique and a great way to enjoy marine animals.

“Freediving is a better way to interact with them, maybe more quiet and less aggressive than scuba diving," he says. "It's really interesting to notice that humans are not so different from dolphins and whales when we look at the physiological adaptation of holding one's breath during diving.”

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