By Rebecca Lewis @RebeccaSLewis

FOR most people swimming with whales is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but these children as young as four have grown up with the magnificent mammals

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Videographer / Director: Darren Rice
Producer: Nick Johnson
Editor: Sonia Estal

One with the ocean: Abbie swims in front of several whales

British underwater camera operator, Darren Rice, moved from the UK to Tonga to oversee the Matafonua resort with his wife, Nina.

It is there where his three children, JJ, nine, Abbie, eight and Lily, six, mingle with the marine animals in water 500m deep.

Many parents would be reluctant to let their children swim with 40 tonne Humpback Whales, but Darren insists his kids are safe.

The children are adventurers and scuba dive, paddle board and kite board in their spare time

He said: “The whales are very gentle and accommodating. I have noted over the years that they enjoy interacting with children, especially the mothers with young babies of their own. There is no danger.

JJ and Lily have been swimming with whales for years and have a remarkable bond with the mammals

“As a resort we specialise in taking people out everyday during the season to swim with the whales.

“We are one of the few places in the world where this is permitted.

“I have been an underwater camera man now for 20 years and wouldn’t dream of placing my children in any danger.

The children have grown close to the whales and have even named them

“We take about 500 people a year to swim with the whales without incident.”

Each year the Humpback Whales return to waters surrounding Foa Island, where the resort is based, to mate and give birth.

Every year dozens of humpback whales migrate to the Tonga waters to mate and give birth

And Darren’s three children are present in the ocean to witness the miraculous event.

Darren insists the children are safe with the enormous marine mammals

The children have even formed a special bond with two of the whales, which they have nicknamed Narla and Geraldine.

Darren said: “They have been here several times with newborn babies.

“They particularly enjoy the children's company.

Darren and his brood are careful to give the mammals their much-needed space.

“Last year Geraldine kept pushing her new baby boy over toward the children encouraging him to interact.

“We see lots of the same whales every year.

The children move closer to the young calf and its mother

“Mothers with newborns tend to visit the same nursery areas to give birth and to nurse.”

But Darren and his young charges are careful to give the mammals their much-needed space.

The whales are friendly and inquisitive and pose no threat to the children

“We always maintain a safe distance from the whales not because they are a threat but the babies often only weeks old can be very clumsy and when a five tonne baby gets clumsy you don't want to be nearby.”

Visit the Matafonua resort here: www.matafonua.com

Darren and Nina Rice with their children Lily, Abbie and JJ, have lived on the island for four years