Each year at the same time humpback whales leave the cool water in Antarctica to give birth and raise their calves. From July to October you can admire this miracle of life in waters near the island of the Kingdom of Tonga. When the calves are strong enough the whales find their way back to the Antarcica.
The Tongan government allows tourist swimming activities with whales and tour operators strongly promote the practice of swimming-with-whales. Tonga is one of the few countries, where it is allowed to swim with them. But also in Tonga the whale swim is not entirely undisputed, but you can read more about it further below. If you decide to go on a humpback whale swim make sure to do a bit of research about your provider.
Before this trip, we haven’t heard about Tonga. Last month in Australia we were lucky enough to spot hundreds of humpback whales along the coastline of Queensland. We got nearly addicted to watch the from the cliffs and spend hours on rocks to observe their behavior. Until then, a friend of us told us about the possibility to swim with whales in Tonga. We hardly believe our ears and started to research immediately. Soon after we planned our next trip and booked it straight to Tonga.
I can’t put it in words what you feel when a 16 meter long and 36 tons whale passed you in the water. You have to experience it by yourself.
A full-grown humpback whale can be between 12 to 16 meters long and weight up to 40 tons. The size comparison with a truck is true and obvious. You will realize the size and power of those giants when you come close to them. Being in the ocean together with those incredible sea mammals is unbelievable and an experience you will remember forever.
WHAT YOU HAVE TO KNOW
When is whale season in Tonga?
Tonga whale season runs between the months of June and October with August and September being some of the best months.
Where exactly is it possible to swim with whales?
On all three island groups of Tonga is it possible to swim with humpback whales. We decided to do the whale swim from Tongatapu with Tuna Moana. Here a less providers, but also less boats out in the water everyday.
How much is a tour?
One day costs 250 $ with Tuna Moana. In that price is included: the pick up and drop off from your accommodation, the equipment and lunch on a beautiful remote island. There are discounts available for booking multiple day trips at once. They strongly believe in swims that are not harmful to the whales in any way, and their experienced guides and skippers will be constantly watching behavior and circumstances to ensure the best interaction for both you and the whales. Find more about it here.
How many days should I book?
We decided to go out with a boat for 3 days and I would recommend it to book at least two or three days to everyone. All providers can guarantee to see some whales during the season, but it is not possible to swim with whales every time. We were lucky enough to swim with whales on all three days.
Which company is ?
Each island has their own providers but you have to be sure that they are licensed as there are strict rules for the swim with whales. If you are looking at swimming with the whales in Tongatapu, as we did, I highly recommend Tuna Moana. They have one boat which is staffed by an amazing team. We spent time with the whole crew three days and they were absolutely fantastic. Not just in terms of being fun, friendly, and giving us a great experience, but it was also very obvious how much they loved the whales and that, at the end of the day, the whale’s safety and comfort was the priority. As it should be.
Do I need to be a really good swimmer?
A strong swimmer is maybe overstate, but yes you should definitely be able to swim. And yes you should feel super comfortable in the water especially with a snorkel. This is the only way to get the most of your whale swim and also all other participants get their’s money worth. It also can be ruff in paradise and the swell can be a bit uncomfortable out on the open ocean.
Is it ethically right to swim with humpback whales in Tonga?
Should we do it? Or rather not? Do we disturb them? Or are we not welcome? Questions I ask myself before we booked our whale swim trip to Tonga.
It is sure, that we influence whales and all other animals out in the ocean when we are heading out on a boat. We can’t hide with a boat and we are being heard. Sea mammal living in a world of tones.
Swim with whales? A controversial discussed topic. My opinion: as a swimmer we don’t influence the mammals as much as with a boat. The most important thing is a respectful conduct as soon as we enter their habitat. I am the guest and the whales are hosts. They decided if we can hopp to them in the water and they decided how close they come.
- reef-friendly sun creme
- a hat to protect yourself from the sun
- 1 – 2 bikinis or board shorts
- rain or wind jacket
Wetsuit, snorkel and fins are provided by the whale swim company.
We bought a professional underwater housing from Aqua Tech ImageingSolutions for our camera before. As we become more and more interested in the ocean in the last weeks, we decided to invest some money. But it’s definitely not necessary. A simple GoPro is also more than enough to bring this incredible experience on film.
- GoPro Hero 7
In general I would recommend to do your first swim without any camera stuff to get the full experience.