I still remember my first trip to Tonga in 2006. I chartered a 60 foot sail boat with a whale swim permit and spent 2 weeks sailing through the island group. We spent 6 days in the Vavau’ island group then sailed south to the Ha’apai group for 6 days. I was very fortunate on that trip to create this images as it later received world wide recognition.
That year I learned a lot. First and foremost whales are not dive sites. There is no such thing as a 9AM whale followed by a 2 PM whale. The whales are wild and on their own schedule, so to do it right requires 9-10 days on the water.
The next lesson I learned is that the type and condition of boat chartered makes a huge difference. For example getting in an out of the water quietly is very important in terms of not upsetting whales. Some boats have very high gunnels and no swim doors so it is harder to get in and out of the water. All boats have engines and each kind gives off a different sound. Whales like low signature sounds that are smooth rather than rough and do no like loud, rough or diesel engines.
For the day boats in the 30 foot size, I prefer a ribbed zodiac or a catamaran design speedboat like this. These are prefect boats for whale swimming. When it comes to liveaboards, I prefer a small group of 4 or 5 people. Getting in and out of the water on the back of the boats is very easy.
Since 2006, the industry has grown a lot and now in Vavau’, many would say there are too many licensed boats. The infrastructure dealing with accommodations, restaurants, and domestic flights is at capacity and feeling stress. As a result people have to book 1-2 years in advance to get the best boats and accommodations.
I am already booking clients for 2018, and 2019 so if your interested in whale swimming and whale photography please send em a message and lets tart talking……