Gaby Barathieu is a photographer and French expatriate living on the Réunion Island since 2010. An autodidact, he’s driven by a passion for diving and trained in underwater photography during his many ‘dips’ in the tropical waters of the ocean that surrounds his home.

Quickly his heart turned to the most elegant creatures he would encounter on his swims: whales. The incredible photos he’s captured are, in a word, stunning… find out the stories behind them below.

You can see more of Gaby’s work by following him on 500px, visiting his website, or saying hi on Facebook and Twitter. You can also license all of his amazing whale photos through the 500px Marketplace!

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My goal in photographing whales has always been to share with you the moments of pure magic that I experience while shooting them … to me, they’re beyond special.

Each year, Humpback whales come up from the Antarctic to mate in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean over a period stretching from July to October. Between the attraction of swimming with whales and my fascination with these creatures, it was impossible for me not to go experience this first-hand.

Over the past several years, this has given me the chance to work alongside them incredibly closely, and every single encounter is filled with powerful emotions for me. These impressive creatures, graceful and unimaginably beautiful, force us into a state of admiration and humility.

The following photos are captured exclusively in apnea (holding breath while snorkeling… no SCUBA equipment) for the sake of mobility and responsiveness.

I invite you to take a deep breath and enter our universe …


September 17, 2011

There are some dates that we never forget!

I went to the sea to spend an afternoon with friends when we came across an active whale group. There were at least five! I was not very experienced swimming with and photographing cetaceans at the time.

We swam up to the active group in the water, which is not recommended because these whales are very active and mobile. There are often fights between rival males and as a swimmer you do NOT want to be stuck in between two of these creatures fighting!

They were everywhere, right, left, above, below, in front, and behind. They beat their tail and pectoral fins on the surface of the water, jostled … jumped! And we were right there in the middle! For me, it was a sacred christening.

Baleines à bosses

Baleine à bosses

Baleines à bosses


The most memorable trip of 2012 was when we met these two playful young calves. You have to be careful around calves; in the first month of their lives, they remain very close to their mother.

However, once they have grown up a bit, they take a little more freedom and come play with swimmers. Still, we have to be very careful. Sure, they’re just babies, but babies that already weigh 3 tons!

Baleine à bosses

Baleine à bosses

Baleine à bosses

Baleine à bosses


2013 was a very good year. We met two mother/calf pairs and were able to capture some truly beautiful photos.

In the first series, the calf is very young… less than a month old. It therefore remains very close to its mother, as you can see in the photo. They were about 20 meters deep, static, not moving.

In these cases, you have to approach very gently, finning on the surface so as not to frighten them. Once you get above them, it is best to wait a few minutes for them to get used to your presence before diving down. Finally, once they have accepted your presence, the show can commencer.

The calves do not hold their breath for long periods of time, they often visit the surface to breathe. And when you know some of these animals, you can anticipate when they will reach the surface.

At rest the calves remain in their mother’s protection, but when they need to breathe, they ride up on their mother’s muzzle. It was at that moment that I decided to go under and accompany them in their ascent.

Megaptera novaeangliae

Baleine à bosses

Baleine à bosses

Baleine à bosses

2013… Part 2

The second interaction of 2013 was just as great! A true moment of happiness.

We again stumbled on a mother and her calf. This time the calf was older and therefore much more mobile and playful. We spent close to an hour with them!

The calf was very intrigued by me and my camera. He kept following me. I had to swim backwards for several minutes. Imagine doing that continuously as you’re followed by a 4-ton calf and 25-ton mother! But that’s how you capture these kinds of photos.

Another encounter I will never forget.

Baleines à bosses

Baleine à bosses

Baleine à bosses

Baleine à bosses

Baleine à bosses

Baleines à bosses

Baleine à bosses


On August 9, 2014, we started the morning with a group of friends who were out all week watching the whales. After just 30 minutes of sailing, we saw a whale surface about a hundred meters from our boat before disappearing back into the blue. We decide to stay still and wait to see where it would appear again.

10 minutes later it emerged just 20 meters from the boat. She had come to see us!

We spent over an hour in crystal clear water with her. She strutted before us, whirled, spun. She made her show. This is a series of very special pictures for me.








Face of the giant

Take my hand

One Final Note

These delicate cetaceans deserve a lot of respect. If you wish to swim with them be sure to hire a professional whale charter. We must at all costs avoid harassing them. You have to be patient, and wait to be accepted by these giants of the sea before you turn your camera on them.