I live in Hawaii, where Humpback Whales migrate in mass each year to mate and give birth. While there are plenty of whales around, the Marine Mammal Act, makes it illegal to approach a whale within 100 yards. So its not allowed to approach the whales let alone get in the water with them.
As a working scuba instructor, I logged thousands of dive in Maui, and never saw a whale underwater. But, one day in 2005, while diving at Molokini, it happened. I had just started my three minute safety stop and was 15 feet deep. I was swimming away from the wall into the blue so it would be easy for the boat to pick me up. While enjoying the suns rays shimmering in the water, I saw a shape coming up from the deep.
At first I thought it could be a Tiger Shark as it seemed big. But, as it got closer it was a baby humpback. The whale swam right up to me and looked me in the eye, then swam back towards its mother. After the dive, I couldn’t stop thinking about the whale.
So I started to research whale swimming and learned that permitted whale snorkeling was allowed in the Silver Banks and Tonga. Since Tonga was closer to Hawaii, I went there in 2006. I had no idea what to expect. I assumed because it was permitted and licensed that it would be easy. I learned right way that this was not the case.
There are two kinds of charters – open boat charters and take as many as 8-12 people, and private charters that take smaller groups. Share boats are less expensive but provide less time in the water. Private boats cost more but enable participants to spend more time with the whales.
There are many rules and regulations that the operators have to follow that are made to protect the whales. One of the rules states only four swimmers in the water a time. Another rule is that encounters have to end after 90 minutes to provide 90 time for whales to rest and calves to nurse.
Over the last 14 years of traveling to Tonga to observe whales, I have learned that there are some very talented captains that can recognize whale behavior and know just by watching if it’s worth trying to swim the whales or keep looking. Not every whale is open to a mutual interaction. Some are on a mission, and some want to sing or just sleep.
For those interested in swimming with whales and want to travel with someone that has experience check out my site. I have three Tonga trips scheduled.
I am doing a Master Class on whales for Ocean Geographic. I will be live on Nov 6th at 11AM in Australia, and Nov 5th at 2PM in Hawaii. The program will be recorded so be sure to check I tout if you miss the live presentation.
#Tonga #Whaleswimming #privatetours #whalephotogrpahy #nikon #Oceangeographic