The Vavu’a whale swimming operators are set up around the realities of life… Tourism is really the only significant industry in the Vavu’a Group of islands and it revolves around the two main groups of visitors. Those who come to swim with or watch the whales and yachties.
While the yachties spend a reasonable amount of money in the shops and restaurants while they are in town. The whale swimmers and whale watchers spend much more and are the main game! Plus, because the whale season is relatively short, from around mid July to the end of October, there is not much to do outside of those months.
So the operators want to maximize their revenue when the whales are there. And, while visitor numbers are increasing, the number of operators is controlled by the licenses issued by the Tongan Government.
Vavu’a Whale Swimming Operators
The actual number of licences is somewhat of a mystery… It was rumored that there are 20 or more of those licenses. But the only information I could find was from 2013 which indicates 14 approved operators and boats, as of 7 August 2013, under the Whale Watching and Whale Swimming Regulations:
|1||Humpback Diving & Water Sports||Angelo Tahi|
|2||Whale Swim & Dive Ltd||Malinoa|
|3||Deep Blue Tonga||Kiu Nia|
|4||Fins ‘n’ Flukes||Moana|
|7||Ha’apai Whale & Sails||Nautigal; Wayward Wind|
|8||Kiko’s Whale Watching||Ulukaulupe|
|9||Vava’u Game Fishing||Kiwi Magic|
|10||Melinda Sea Adventures||Independence, Jocara|
|11||Beluga Diving Ltd||Gladiator, Madmax|
|12||Dolphin Pacific Diving Ltd||Dream Catcher|
|14||Vaka Vave||Division Bell|
Obviously access to potentially lucrative licenses can create problems… The more people that can be catered to, the greater the revenue that is generated. But, the rules of engagement are quite clear and the issue becomes whether they are followed – or even reinforced!
Over the past 3-4 years there has been increasing evidence that not all the operators are following the rules. This came to a head in February 2020 when Tonga’s Ministry of Tourism announced that the number of licenses would be reduced from 22 to 20! Who the other six (previously 8) operators are does not appear to be documented anywhere on-line…
Clearly there are “issues” with the whale swimming operators in Tonga. Something that has been described very well by Kirsty Bowe, the daughter of Allan Bowe – a pioneer of the whole industry!
Vavu’a Whale Swimming Operators – Boat Pressure
My personal experience in Vavu’a was that those rules were followed. But I have heard many other stories that indicate my experience was not typical!
The general term used to describe the overall impact of this behavior on the whales is “boat pressure”.
Whereby too many boats are trying to get their guests in the water at the same time. Greatly stressing the whales in the overall process.
Google “whale watching in Tonga” and you will find pages of companies all offering fantastic experiences. Clearly though that is not the case and it all boils down to who you use. Plus, to compound it all, Tonga is not the easiest place to operate from.
And there are very significant logistical challenges in running a business that involves taking people out on the water to swim with large marine creatures. All of which add up very quickly.
So don’t go to Tonga for the whales and expect to do it on the cheap. Because your chances of success will be minimal…
A Quality Experience – Here’s How it Works…
I went to Tonga because it had been on my bucket list for a few years. Basically I really wanted to be in the water with the humpback whales and get some good photographs.
Sounds kind of easy – right? The Tongan Government seems pretty chilled about these things and lets you in the water. The whales are there, the boats take you out – next step, the front cover of National Geographic!
Trust me, it’s not that easy… If you want a quality experience the first thing you need is a guide. One who really understands the humpback whales and respects their behavior. Secondly, and most importantly, that guide is working with one of the operators that has all the logistics worked out!
Finally, and of profound importance, both the guide and the operator must follow the rules. Which also means that you, as the paying guest, must follow the guide’s instructions.
I did a lot of research on who I should use for my trips to Tonga and was happy with the results. You can contact me if you would like some advice on that.
Back To: Humpback Whale Swimming in Tonga