bettel

Swimming with whales... is it ethical?

39 posts in this topic

Well the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits swimming with whales here in the USA and NOAA is strongly against it:

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/dontfeedorharass.htm

 

That said, there are a few companies out there offering trips like you describe that seem to do their best to ensure the encounters are as ethical as possible, some even supporting conservation projects and research.

 

As a dive instructor I highly recommend you take a class before your trip. Many dive shops offer snorkeling programs, or even better, try out a freediving class. This trip is a huge investment, you'll want to make the most of it by being a good snorkeler and by feeling comfortable in the water.

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@ellenhighwater

 

Thank you! I have actually already taken the freediving course. Now I have to practice :)

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@@bettel I went to Tonga and swam with the humpback whales a few years ago. It was a life changing magical experience, I had to learn to swim to do it! I'll do a short trip report to explain more. Pen

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I'll do a short trip report to explain more. Pen

Oh, that would be awesome!!! I am looking forward to your report!

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@@bettel I went to Tonga and swam with the humpback whales a few years ago. It was a life changing magical experience, I had to learn to swim to do it! I'll do a short trip report to explain more. Pen

 

~ @@penolva

 

I've read about Tonga's humpback whales in a newspaper travel article.

You're the first person I've known who did it.

As a kid I was fascinated with Tonga. Still am!

Even a brief mini-trip report would be a welcome addition.

Tom K.

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Just sorting out the photographs. Pen

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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?

 

@@bettel. There is another place where you can swim with humpback whales: the French Polynesian Islands.

Whether swimming with whales is ethical or not I don't know because I'm not sure to understand what it means but whether it disturbs the whales or not, this I can answer. In the 3 places known for whale swimming I can say it is not disturbing the whales because: 1) there are not so many tourists going to those places (far away and expensive); 2) there are limited numbers of operators following strict rules issued by the local governments and 3) I agree with what is posted above and by experience, if the whales don't want you to swim and approach them, you have no chance. They will let you go in the water and approach them only if they want. Once they want to be alone, they dive deep and/or swim fast and it is over with almost no chance to find them again.

To answer some questions in the other posts, swimming with whales is for sure the coolest thing I've ever done when snorkeling or scuba diving all over the world. That is a great experience, even better than swimming with whale sharks !!.

If you have the time and the money, don't hesitate and do it.

To give you an idea, below some photos I took during these amazing experiences

 

Rurutu Island, French Polynesia

post-50274-0-55623500-1450183695_thumb.jpg

post-50274-0-31834000-1450183696_thumb.jpg

 

Vava'u, Tonga Islands

post-50274-0-66307100-1450183691_thumb.jpg

post-50274-0-81219300-1450183692_thumb.jpg

post-50274-0-82387000-1450183693_thumb.jpg

post-50274-0-76650000-1450183694_thumb.jpg

Tofo, Mozambique

post-50274-0-07793400-1450183697_thumb.jpg

post-50274-0-77752500-1450183698_thumb.jpg

post-50274-0-92567800-1450183697_thumb.jpg

 

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@@samapi Thank you very much! Your pictures look amazing!!! What boat or tour provider did you have your tour with?

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Posted (edited)

 

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?

 

 

 

@@samapi just shows what a difference great camera equipment makes. Pen

 

 

 

Edited by penolva
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@@samapi Thank you very much! Your pictures look amazing!!! What boat or tour provider did you have your tour with?

For which location do you want to know @@bettel?

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For which location do you want to know @@bettel?

 

Did you do multiple locations? I am interested in any location, I am still not 100% sure where I am going to, it all depends on information that I am gathering :)

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For which location do you want to know @@bettel?

 

Did you do multiple locations? I am interested in any location, I am still not 100% sure where I am going to, it all depends on information that I am gathering :)

@@bettel, sorry for the very long answer as I was out travelling to Kenya, Masai Mara for the year end holidays and then, was very busy with work...

Yes, I did multiple locations as I had the chance to swim with whales in 3 different areas.

Below are the internet links of the dive operators I used in order to swim with these giant but so cool mammals !!

 

- First experience in Rurutu Island, French Polynesia with Raie Manta Club:

http://www.raiemantaclub.com/ruru-fr.htm

They still exist but apparently they don't offer swimming operation with whales in Rurutu anymore ("Activité Suspendue" written in red in their website), which is too bad because this was excellent !!

 

- Second experience in Moorea Island, French Polynesia with Scubapiti

http://www.scubapiti.com/baleines.php

 

- Third experience in the Tonga Islands, Vava'u with Tonga Blue Lagoon

www.tongabluelagoon.com

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Had the pleasure of seeing humpbacks on the east coast of USA some years ago, and after a while, mother and calf swam underneath the boat we were on, turned around and then swam under the boat again. They did this a few times. We were there just before the main summer season and no other boats in site.

 

We have just booked our flight to Aus and hope to see humpbacks at Hervey Bay (east coast) where boats are restricted in how close they can go to the whales, but not in how close the whale can come to the boat. We eventually finish up in Ningaloo (west coast) where hopefully we will not be too late to see/swim with a whale shark, again, strict rules are in place that have to be adhered to.

 

It really is a problem with balancing tourism and nature. Some countries will get it right and other will not.

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One thing to look for when you're booking these kinds of trips is if the tour company has any affiliations with groups like Project AWARE (which is affiliated with PADI so there's a marketing side to it for sure, but in general shops that follow their guidelines or are certified "100% aware" are very good with responsible tourism).

www.projectaware.org

I keep eyeing Big Fish Expeditions trips, while I don't have any personal experience with them I like that they fund a project they've named Preditors in Peril:

bigfishexpeditions.com

Even on trips where you're just snorkeling with wildlife I always try to book through a dive shop affiliated with one of the major international dive certification programs. Three reasons for this - usually dive shops take greater care in responsible interaction with wildlife as their reputation is on the line, they tend to have far better rental gear, and dive shops will almost always have a certified Rescue Diver or above onboard as well as oxygen tanks and other safety gear.

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