bettel

Swimming with whales... is it ethical?

39 posts in this topic

I have recently watched a few videos and I got totally hooked.

 

Here is an example:

 

 

I already did some research and it seems there are two places in the world where you can do it: Tonga and Silver Bank in Dominican Republic. It seems to be strictly controlled e.g. number of people in the water (in Tonga it is only 4), no scuba diving but only snorkeling, no whale harassment, etc. And it seems there is very limited amount of companies that have license to provide the service e.g. only three ships in Silver Bank. And all of those companies have biologists on board. They all claim that the interaction is done 100% on whale's wish to interact with humans and they warn in advance that the experience is not guaranteed as it is all about whales. But I just want to be sure that I am not going to support any non ethical activity. Have you heard something about it? What do you think?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Looking at that video it all looks ok to me, if the whale felt stressed or threatened in any way it would not be there and definitely wouldn't allow the calf to be between her self and whoever is in the water.

I worked in Tonga fifteen years ago and saw a lot of humpbacks but not while I was in the water unfortunately. I did get to dive with a whale shark which was awesome but a full grown whale would be a lifetime high.

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@bettel - I do not have a problem with it under strictly controlled conditions as you described. Compared to the following I think tourists snorkeling with whales is completely inconsequential:

 

- bad behavior of so many whale watching boats crowding whales and causing noise pollution

 

- commercial and sport fishing vessels that injure whales with propeller strikes

 

- cargo ships ramming whales and subjecting them to prop strikes

 

- petroleum exploration using underwater compressed air blasts to search for oil and gas deposits

 

- etc. etc.

 

If tourist money from low-impact activities like snorkeling with whales can help convince governments like Tonga and others to better protect calving grounds and other critical areas, so much the better.

3 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@bettel - I do not have a problem with it under strictly controlled conditions as you described. Compared to the following I think tourists snorkeling with whales is completely inconsequential:

 

- bad behavior of so many whale watching boats crowding whales and causing noise pollution

 

- commercial and sport fishing vessels that injure whales with propeller strikes

 

- cargo ships ramming whales and subjecting them to prop strikes

 

- petroleum exploration using underwater compressed air blasts to search for oil and gas deposits

 

- etc. etc.

 

If tourist money from low-impact activities like snorkeling with whales can help convince governments like Tonga and others to better protect calving grounds and other critical areas, so much the better.

 

Well said, @@offshorebirder. Very true. Please do write once back from the experience, @@bettel - it looks magical!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@ Big Andy - I have often been accused of having warped priorities, but I would treasure swimming with a Whale Shark even more than swimming with whales!

 

You are very fortunate to have done so.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

but I would treasure swimming with a Whale Shark even more than swimming with whales!

 

 

Lots of places to swim with whale sharks. Just plan a normal trip and work in a side trip where you can also scuba dive with whale sharks. I've "swam" with whale sharks 40-50 times.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I swam with whale sharks in Tofo and combined that with Kruger. Easy to do! :)

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good question@@bettel, Ive been pondering this lately as we are planning a Whale Shark snorkel next month, if the animals haven't migrated on. Im hoping the companies claims of "accredited", "minimise disturbance" etc etc, prove true. @@offshorebirder I believe you are right, here where I live, plans to build a massive gas hub amidst the worlds largest Humpback Whale nursery, have been shelved, for the time being. Staggering. I tend to think a small group of snorkelers is the least of issues facing the oceans creatures.

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you! I am EXTREMELY glad to hear that there seems to be nothing wrong with this.

 

 

Please do write once back from the experience, @@bettel - it looks magical!

 

I will, but it will not be soon :). First, I have already two trips scheduled :), second, as the number of service providers is very limited, this tour has to be reserved at least year in advance (especially if you can't accommodate any start date) :(. But I have already started to practice snorkeling in a swimming pool :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

@@bettel I've snorkelled with a whale & its calf by myself near where I live and also with whale sharks on a tour.

 

My tip for you is unless you are a strong swimmer & a good snorkeler you will be wasting a lot of money. Even though these creatures might be just cruising along they will go past you so quickly you will only get a brief glimpse of them. You need to be very competent to keep up with them. During the whale shark tour that I did many participants spent less than 15 minutes in the water as they were so exhausted from trying to swim along with them.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@Geoff, I swim pretty well (lol especially with fins) and I have a year and a half (at least) to improve it even more.

 

But it is very useful to know that the stronger swimming skill I will have the better (it adds motivation to go to the swimming pool regularly :) )

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You shouldn't try to literally swim with whale sharks. They often swim in a pattern, which I have been lucky to recognize (by no means every time), at approximately the same depth. I've managed to position myself in front of the sharks, so I can choose an under or side position as it swims by, which is truly an amazing experience.

 

Actually, it is more fun watching people trying to swim with the whale shark.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Geoff: I have to agree. We added on a stop at Mafia Island on a trip to Tanzania a few years ago, because the whale sharks were in residence. Here is my account of that adventure:

 

On the final morning of our four day stay on Mafia Island the seas calm enough to venture out in search of the whale sharks who winter and feed there. Its the main reason we added this last bit to our safari in southern Tanzania. We were told that the mammoths had been spotted the week before in numbers as high as fifteen, but we have been sitting for three days unable to take up the chase because of high seas.

With great anticipation, we pile into an ancient van along with seven others from the neighboring resorts. Our driver is on two cell phones the entire way. He is talking back and forth franctically, while negotiating roads where no grader has ever traveled. Thirty minutes later we arrive at the shore -- an ugly industrial fishing port where not one boat looks as though it will stay afloat long enough to snap a photo. (Dare I even wonder if this is safe?) At this point, there is much shouted negotiations with bystanders and on cell phones. The driver never once turns off the van motor -- I feel certain it will not start again without jumper cables and maybe a wind-up key. But patiently, we wait.

Ten minutes later, "so sorry, no boat here, we must go on to another location". The boondoggle begins. But, O.K., we've come this far - in for a penny, in for a pound. Backtracking over those same rutted roads, we spend another 20 minutes before coming to a nearly deserted beach. In the distance there is a (so called) boat. I'm pretty sure it was made entirely from old packing crates.

Oh well, life is too short to be fearful - chin up! We wade through the muddy tidal flats, then through the waist deep water to fling ourselves over the rail and aboard. We're off!

Soon I realize that there is one guy on board who's only job is to pump the bilge so that we won't sink. Water is literally coming in as fast as he can pump it out. They have thoughtfully placed a woven mat over the bottom of the boat so that we aren't alarmed by the 6-8 inches of water underneath. I mention to Mr. Red that the "bilge kid" is soon fast asleep and doesn't seem to be keeping up his end of the bargain. But Mr. Red puts me at ease by pointing out that the kid has his bare feet hanging down and as soon as the water reaches a sufficient level, it hits his feet and wakes him up to pump before we sink. How ingenious!

Everyone is excited and bubbly. We suit up -- fins, masks, snorkels - telling jokes and holding cameras at the ready. We eagerly wait.

Its a big ocean - and really, whale sharks aren't THAT big. Two boys stand in the bow of the boat looking for a fin. One little fin (o.k.- one big fin) in all that water. A whale shark fin is big - for a fish fin, but its not THAT big in a whole ocean. Let's just say that its the size of a sofa (which its not). Ever try to find a sofa floating in the ocean? We wait some more.

An hour passes...everyone has taken off fins, masks, snorkels and wet suits. Its hot, its really hot. We wait.

Two hours.....We've stopped laughing and making jokes. One couple had the foresight to bring a packed breakfast and the audacity to eat it in front of us. We all silently hate them! We wait.

Our seats on this so called boat are simply a 6 inch wide, flat board. Not quite wide enough for BOTH cheeks, so you have to alternate from one cheek to the other. Pretty soon my whole bumm is numb. I ask Mr. Red to retrieve one of the many life preservers in the overhead netting so that I might use it for a seat cushion. He tries, but they are all roped together and tied down - impossible to get out. (Hmmmm, would that meet safety regulations?) Pretty soon I'm sitting on one of my swim fins just to keep the seat board from sawing my arse in half! We wait.

I'm one of the lucky ones with an upright post to lean on. I fall asleep sitting up, leaning against my post. All of a sudden.....BIG EXCITEMENT ensues! A passing fishing boat (really more of a canoe) says they have seen whale sharks nearby. We speed off in the general direction they point and......... we wait.

Around and around in circles. By now - I'm pretty sure most everyone on the boat is wondering why we thought this was such a spectacular idea in the first place. I know, I am. And wondering how long we must keep looking before we can respectably say we've given it a go -- and then give up. However, reputations are the line. The dive master is constantly on his cell phone making frantic sounding calls -- to whom...I'm not sure?

I doze again.

THERE IS IS!!! -- a whale shark right beside the boat! I am jarred awake just in time to see the spotted back (unmistakable) zip past. They are really, really here! How we found them in this vast body of water is a miracle.

But wait.....before we can suit up again, its gone. Disappears into the deep. Everyone is at the ready again. Have we really gotten this close for only a fleeting glimpse? Surely not. The chase is on and the boys are now determined. We've been given the instructions for how to snorkel with a whale shark -- "don't get too near " --- (AS IF ...!) We wait.

Now its been 4 hours or more. Time is running out and I can see that we are slowly heading back toward shore and our departure point. So much - for so little. Then just as we near the end of the excursion (and truly, right where we started out four hours ago) -- THERE IT IS AGAIN !

'"JUMP, JUMP, JUMP!!" Into the water. He seems to be staying this time and we're really, really, really going to get our chance to swim with a whale shark. The Holy Grail.

We're in! ----- But, hold on......I can't see a thing. The water, rich with the plankton that attracts the whale sharks to feed, is as clear as mud. I can't see my hand at the end of my arm. A whale shark could be a foot away. The swells are big and its hard to tell where anyone or anything might be. I stick close to our dive master, who is watching the boat. They can still see the whale shark from topside and point the way. (Why didn't I stay in the boat?) The dive master takes my hand and says "this way - its coming". So we swim as fast as we can to get ahead of its path and then we wait - one last time.

There it is! A fleeting glimpse of spots in the murky water. "Did you see it?", he gleefully shouts. Yes?????

 

What a great boondoggle of an adventure.

'Red

5 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@SimplyRed Wow, what a shocker of a tour!!

 

@@bettel If you can't swim sub 15 minutes for 1 kilometre in a 50 metre pool and can not sustain that pace for a few kilometres then in my opinion you're not fast enough.

Often it will depend on ocean conditions too, if there is a current it is just another thing to worry about.

 

On the tour I did we were in 80 fathoms of water, it was inky black below us. The way it worked is spotter planes would find the sharks and the boats would motor to the area. One of the crew (also known as a spotter) would dive overboard and swim with the shark whilst the tourists were piled into inflatable rubber boats. The IRB's would then motor to get in front of the shark(s) and everyone would jump into the water to wait for them.

 

As the sharks swam past the stragglers that could not keep up would be picked up by the IRBs and either taken ahead of the shark for another look or taken back to the mothership as they were too exhausted to continue. As I said previously most people lasted 15 minutes. In fact it was only the spotter and me in the water for 1.5 hours and it was a fantastic experience.

 

I have some old images somewhere that I will try and find and add to this thread.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@bettel If you can't swim sub 15 minutes for 1 kilometre in a 50 metre pool and can not sustain that pace for a few kilometres then in my opinion you're not fast enough.

Often it will depend on ocean conditions too, if there is a current it is just another thing to worry about.

It is probably true for sharks. I am 100% sure it is not a requirement for swimming with humpbacks :).

 

They say it is strictly forbidden to swim fast near whales or to try to approach whales quickly. People should calmly stay in water and wait if whales decide to come closer. Any approach to animal should be allowed my the tour leader and should be extremely slow and gentle.

 

The requirement that I was told is to just to make sure that you are strong enough to go to water back and forth, swim couple hundred meters and be able to dive and operate your camera :)

 

I was told with whales they actually check each animal they meet if it looks like that an animal will be friendly and OK if people join it. And only if they think that this animal is OK, they allow people to go in water. They don't allow to follow whales if whales don't seem to want to deal with humans.

 

And it is at least 5 day experience so there is plenty of time to enjoy whales in water and out of water :). Even if I find that I am not strong enough I will be happy to spend those 5 days just watching them closely and without too many other people around.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

Loved your account of the whale shark adventure, @@SimplyRed. The forceful" jump, jump, jump" command or "go, go go" command in my case sticks out in my mind from whale shark swims in Mexico. When I went only 3 from the boat were allowed in the water at one time, which was fine because 3 friends and I rented the boat for the day and one person usually needed to catch their breath.

 

One swish of the tail and the whale sharks have left the paddling tourists, even strong swimmers, in their wake & bubbles if they so choose. That's why I think this activity is ok, unlike swimming with captive dolphins at resorts.

 

@@bettel, I recall views from the boat were so good that I opted out of at least one in-the-water adventure.

 

In case you are open to any whale shark destination, consider Holbox, Mexico July or Aug. We saw each day and swam with probably a dozen over 3 days in the ocean in late July. Late July and early Aug usually are peak times. Captain Willy took us out. Excerpt from trip report on another forum:

 

Our boat crew consisted of the Captain; another boat driver who could steer the boat, look for Whale Sharks, or join us in the water; and Ingrid our interpreter. They were a lot of fun and were willing to stay out as long as we wanted. I’d definitely seek out Willy’s another time and highly recommend them.

Here was the daily whale shark routine: We were told not to eat breakfast to prevent seasickness. I cannot skip breakfast so I ate some granola bars or fruit we had brought with no ill effects. I did take a part of a Bonine pill, though.

The captain picked us up each morning around 7:00 am in the golf cart and brought us to the boat--Boston Oiler--one of about 50 boats that go out each day. When I saw all the Whale Shark viewing boats docked, I was concerned with the number of them, but out on the ocean, we did not encounter each other. Only once did another member of the Willy fleet and our boat approach each other and share a couple of Whale Sharks for a few minutes. At times other boats could be spotted at a distance or on the horizon.

After boarding the boat, we’d motor to where there were some Whale Sharks, which took about an hour and a half. A Whale Shark orientation lecture was given and strict rules were explained to us along the way. No suntan lotion, no touching the Whale Sharks, wet suits or life jackets required, only two snorkelers allowed in the water at a time--plus the captain, etc. On the second day when the captain realized we were all comfortable in the water and with the Whale Sharks, he did not come in with us, which allowed a third person in his place. But I found three people swimming frantically to keep up with the Whale Sharks generated a lot of obscuring bubbles.

Definitely bring at least a skin because the water is cold and if you don’t have a skin or wetsuit, you must wear a life jacket, and that makes maneuvering cumbersome. We all had our own snorkel gear, but I think they provide everything. I believe there was a shorty wetsuit or two also.

When a whale shark was spotted, two (or three) people would sit, with flippers and mask on, at the edge of the boat while the boat driver or captain would motor us into position. Then the captain would yell “Go! Go! Go!” and you’d fling yourself into the water and swim as fast as you could toward the whale shark. They are so swift that you’d only be able to keep up with them for a few minutes most of the time. That’s when a life ring would be thrown out and we’d grab on and the boat would drag us back to position and you’d hear “Go! Go! Go!” again and you’d swim to keep up with the

Whale Shark.

Throughout all of this, the Whale Sharks did not seem bothered by us but had no interest in approaching us or interacting. That differed from experiences I have had with dolphins or manatees where these animals sought out people.

Unlike most snorkeling, which is relaxing and at your own pace, this snorkeling was usually exhausting and yielded a few moments of outstanding underwater views for each approach. Our second day we were very lucky to be surrounded by Whale Sharks so once you lost one of them, you could turn around and another one would appear.

Even when there was only a minute or two of viewing, those were amazing moments with magnificent creatures and it was not at all intimidating. We repeatedly got to see their giant mouths open up underwater to take in the plankton or small fish.

Photographing this phenomenon was much tougher than observing it, but it went on continually all around us. The friends I went with were experienced scuba divers in oceans all over the world and they felt that snorkeling with the Whale Sharks was one of the coolest things they have done. I agree, absolutely awesome.

For a beginning snorkeler it could be very frustrating having no time to adjust your mask in the water, being shouted at to “Go!” or you’ll miss the whale shark, and swimming madly to reach and then keep up with the creature. Another factor was the amount of plankton in the water, which not only fed the Whale Sharks but could gunk up the snorkel tube so all of a sudden you could not get a breath through it. It just meant lifting your head out of the water to breathe, but again for someone not comfortable with snorkeling, suddenly sucking on a vacuum tube that provides no oxygen can be disconcerting.

It was nice there were such excellent views from the boat. So often on snorkel trips, non-snorkelers going along for the ride are told they’ll have a lot to look at from on deck, when in fact all they get is seasick. Not so with the Whale Sharks. The views from the boat were equal to the underwater viewing. Since only two/three people at a time could go in the water, that was a good for those remaining on board.

In addition to Whale Sharks, we saw giant rays both while we were in the water and from the boat, at times swimming with the Whale Sharks. Huge schools of fish at the surface attracted these bigger creatures.

Lunch was served on the boat—usually a sandwich, fruit, and small treat.

After two to three hours of fun with the Whale Sharks, we’d head back, returning about 1:00 pm and be driven by golf cart back to Amigos. Each of our three days out in the ocean was different and it was worth going three times. In total we saw at least 75 Whale Sharks, though some were at a great distance and barely visible. We snorkeled with about 15-20 different ones and had good views of probably 50. From what I could tell, our experience on Days 1 and 3 was fairly typical. Day 2 we had exceptional viewing when the Whale Sharks remained in one area and we were in their midst.

We were lucky with weather, having only one post-whale shark viewing shower on Day 1 and daily calm seas with no white caps. Calm is typical in late July and August. The partial Bonine tablet I took probably was not necessary. One of our participants who admitted to “hurling in a hearbeat” did not take any seasick medication and felt a little uncomfortable one of the three days on the way back, but managed not to hurl.

One day we boated to an island with a spring and flamingos in the afternoon, at an additional charge. It was a worthwhile excursion and this was the only place I needed binoculars for the flamingos and cormorants, though I took them on each Whale Shark outing.

Edited by Atravelynn
3 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@SimplyRed sad about your result, but you told that story very well. I was with you on that rickety boat.

 

@@bettel Which location seems the most promising, Silver Bank or Tonga?

 

@@Atravelynn great account! I wasn't interested in the whale shark experience at first (thinking the whale one was more my speed), but now I'm interested.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wondered if I still had photos and I do.

 

https://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=1EctGLhwxasKe

 

Some of the best ones were compliments of the strongest swimmer/diver and his top notch underwater camera. Videos also worked well for this activity and he shared those too. I got good shots with one of those inexpensive drugstore underwater cameras that you send in for development

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@Atravelynn

 

Thank you for the report and for photos. They are great!!! Now I am considering to swim with whales sharks too (man, my wish list somehow becomes longer and longer rather than getting shorter :) ). But whales are still the priority :)

 

@@fictionauthor I am still considering both locations.

 

The only huge con of Tonga for me is location: it takes 3 days (!) to get from Eastern Canada to Vava'u island and then 3 days to get back.

 

Silver Bank is much more reachable.

 

But Silver Bank has some other cons:

 

1) They allow more people in water (up to 10) while in Tonga they allow maximum 4 (and if it is a photo tour than only 3). They split 8 people group into 2 subgroups.

2) Silver Bank is ship based experience. You spend 7 nights on the board of a pretty small ship (20 tourists). Tonga is land based experience. A ship picks you up early morning and drops you off late afternoon.

3) Each Silver bank tour is 4.5 days of snorkeling out of 7 nights tour. Tonga has 6-7-8-9 days tours (the only rule is on Sundays it is not allowed to swim with whales)

 

The positive of the Silver Bank is I think there might be less ships around as only 3 ships provide these service and it takes around 12 hours to get from the origination port to Silver Bank.

 

The other thing is timing :). It is from July to October in Tonga and from January till March in Dominican Republic.

 

To sum it I think I my final decision will mainly depend on other factors. Right now I am aiming for Feb 2017 in Dominican Republic. But if for some reasons it does not work I would aim for September 2017 in Tonga :)

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I found these very low res scans on an old external hard drive. I took these images in 2001 with a cheap throw away film camera.

post-5120-0-31675500-1439162719_thumb.jpg

post-5120-0-06186000-1439162675_thumb.jpg

post-5120-0-81477200-1439162692_thumb.jpg

6 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

from today's Guardian

 

Swimming with whales: a frolic in the wild or an accident waiting to happen?

 

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/aug/18/swimming-with-whales-a-frolic-in-the-wild-or-an-accident-waiting-to-happen

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The activity of whaling is really controversial. I have been watching for whales each year since 3 years in the coast of the Atacam desert of Chile, it is just amazing.

Whaling is posible, but strict rules should be respected such as: never cross the road of the whales, respect a safety distance...

I have never seen any whale stressed by the presence of boats, to the contrary, whales seem to be really curious, especially humpback species.

But whaling in Chile is really different than whaling in Sri Lanka for instance where many boats converge around the blue whales.

 

Concerning swimming with whales.

I have seen people swimming with whales. Whales seemed to change there behavior thus I would say it could have had an impact on them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@jeremie just a note to be aware of: in English, the term "whaling" has traditionally been use to mean whale-hunting while what you are describing is what we call "whale watching." :)

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I sometimes get confused with the gymnastic between French, Spanish and English. I find the mistake quite funny actually! Thank you for the correction!

 

Not sure all the people would appreciate if I offer them to go on Whaling!!!!! :D:D:D:D:D:D

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@@jeremie ha ha exactly - that's why I thought I should point it out!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.


© 2006 - 2017 www.safaritalk.net - Talking Safaris and African Wildlife Conservation since 2006. Passionate about Africa.