Whale swim tourism in Tonga...A new approach

Recently, an Australian owned company contracted our senior technical officer David Donnelly to assist in establishing Tonga’s first ethical whale swim operation. Being highly experienced in interpreting whale behavior as well as being a specialist in operating vessels close to cetaceans, David is well suited to this field of work. In July of this year he traveled to the Kingdom of Tonga to spend time with locally employed staff, sharing his extensive knowledge and experience as a whale research vessel operator. The local crew were trained in how to recognise receptive pods of whales, read behavior and safe vessel maneuvering around whales. It is important that vessel operators engaged in whale swim operations are aware of the risks to not only swimmers but also the whales. Traditionally, cows with calves have been easy targets for whale swim operations but little consideration has been given to the potential impacts this industry may be having on these sensitive pods or to the long term survivorship of calves. In the not so distant past, this population of humpback whales were hunted close to extinction and though numbers have increased, they are still far from fully recovered to pre-whaling numbers. It is for this reason that a carefully considered approach be given to operating around this recovering population of animals. We hope that over time, this passive approach to whale swim tourism may help to set a new ethical standard for this economically important industry.








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