Your Days on the water

“It is truly an inconsistency in nature that one of the largest of mammals in our oceans are so graceful and gentle – totally trusting of the human beings floating on their crystal clear watery domain. The Humpback whales are aware of our presence, they glide effortlessly around us, with a gentleness of knowing we are fragile in comparison and we are there out of wonder and respect of their size, their graciousness and allowing their new born calves within a few metres of us, there is a ‘stillness’ as they approach you that goes way beyond words. . . . . Their song is ancient and resounds through all your senses leaving you with a peacefulness that is both inward and outward”.

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All of our tours are private charters, some staying a few nights aboard a large catamaran and others are land-based at beach-side resorts on the beautiful tropical islands situated up to 20min by boat from Neiafu, the main town on Vava’u.

vav_isls_185x72There are 50 different islands in the Vava’u group, so our days are spent in and around most of these pristine uninhabited islands – a safe haven for the calving females.

July – October is the mating season for these humpback whales 2013_3372_3whaleswho have swum 8,500 km’s from the Antarctic, so there is plenty of activity to be witnessed!

The mornings are spent locating, watching and swimming with the whales. Some days we find them easily and other days it takes a little longer! Remember, they are ‘in the wild’ and not in an aquarium!

You will experience different whale encounters during your days on the water.

Your swims with a mother and calf are usually gentle and wondrous. If the calf is 1044A_0698inquisitive, they love to come close and check us out and some ‘show off’ by somersaulting and spiralling around us. They seem happy to have something to play with!

Sometimes a mother and calf will be ‘escorted’ by a male humpback, waiting for his chance to get ‘lucky”! There may also be a second male challenging the other male ‘escort’. This encounter may not be as peaceful and gentle as when the mum and calf are on their own, however they are just as incredulous.

Then there is the young juveniles (one year olds) that return to Tonga and are ‘dropped off’ by their mothers, to begin life on their own. These encounters with an exuberant young whale can be fun and can certainly get your adrenalin pumping!
So can being in the water with a ‘courting’ couple! In this situation, we careful gauge whether they are aware of us being in the water – or not. If they are only focused on each other, we 2013_0083_breach2do not enter the water with them. This also applies to a ‘heat-run’.

A ‘heat-run’ is a bunch of male humpbacks on the hunt for a female. She can be in the pod and each male fights for the closest position to the female or they could be on the look-out for one. In either case, its very exciting to watch from the boat.

Another thrill is to be in the water with a singing humpback whale! If we are above them, then can experience the sound vibrating through our body – its 2012_nuku_aerialtruly unforgettable and can bring a tear to your eye. We have a hydrophone aboard which allows us to find the location of the singing whale – being in the water above them is like nothing else!

We also see the lone males or females, who are usually on the move and not interested in us. Other behaviours you may witness from the boat are, spy-hopping, head-lunging, fluke-slapping, pec slapping and breaching.

We take a break for lunch, usually at a prime snorkelling spot like the Japanese Gardens or 2013_0242_swallowsNuku Island, in a wondrous cave (Swallows or Mariners) or one of the beautiful uninhabited islands.

The afternoons are much like the mornings, locating the whales and have more interaction before heading back to your resort at around 3.30 – 4pm.

 

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Snorkelling with the Humpback whales

On the first morning of your tour we anchor our boat in a calm area for the boat briefing and for you to get into the water and learn the ‘WhaleSwim Shuffle’. We also take this opportunity to check your snorkelling gear to make sure it is comfortable.

Blue_sky_swimmers_185The ‘WhaleSwim Shuffle’ is way of snorkelling with fins BELOW the surface of the water, the leg action is similar to riding a bike. This reduces the possibility of disturbing the whales. The other way is to snorkel laying on your side – its fast and easy to keep your fins below the water.
If fins are flapping on the surface of the water, the noise and activity can spook the whales and they swim off – defeating the object of the exercise!
For the same reason we advise wearing full foot fins as neoprene booties/diving fins are difficult to keep below the surface as the booties float.

We also put you into groups of 4 and demonstrate ‘how to be’ around the whale, all ready for your in-the-water encounters for the remainder of your expedition.

Our first priority at all times is your safety and safety of the whales.

Touching the whales is NOT permitted on our expeditions – see Term & Conditions.
We have the deepest respect for these magnificent animals, we believe poking and prodding them is invasive and abusive. Just like a stranger touching you in the street – its unacceptable behaviour.

fluke_swimmers2Humpback Whale Information and Research

Our special research program is to photograph and log ‘fluke’ prints (the under-side the the whales tail). Each fluke print is different – just like a human fingerprint.

We welcome our guests participation, by giving us copies of their images of flukes so we can add yo our collection. At the end of each season we send them to the Pacific Whale Foundation in Hawaii to collate and from 2014 we will be sending to The Tonga Fluke Collective. This project was initiated by photographers who visit Tonga each year – they will be collated, recorded and compared each season.

If research data is a special interest to you, then we are happy for you to assist with the collection of this data during your expedition. We also ask our guests to add to this very important I.D. collection.

We look forward to sharing this unforgettable experience with you!!

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