There are official guidelines for swimming with whales in Tonga.
The guidelines are a guide to acceptable behaviour for all people encountering and seeking to interact with cetaceans, commercial operators and the general public alike. The guidelines provide national standards for human behaviour in interactions between people and cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in all Tongan waters. MadMermaids Scuba Ltd. are committed to whale conservation and customer safety so we ensure that all whaleswim guides, boat operators and whaleswim customers adhere to these guidelines.
"The Guidelines for Cetacean Observation" cover interactions between people and cetaceans in the wild during recreational observation activities and have two main aims; to minimise harmful impacts on cetacean populations by ensuring that the normal patterns of daily and seasonal activity of whales and dolphins are maintained and to ensure people have the best opportunity to enjoy and learn about the animals through observation that is successful for people and cetaceans alike. Keep in mind that whale and dolphin interactions should be conducted to; allow cetaceans to continue whatever activity they are engaged in without coming into direct contact with people or vessels unless they choose to do so and allow the cetacean, to determine the nature and extent of any contact with people.
The Official Guidelines refer to all Cetaceans but as we are offering whale swim vacations for the rest of this page I will refer to only the whales.
The difference between you approaching a whale and a whale approaching you.
It is essential that everyone wishing to watch or swim with whales understands the important distinction between you moving toward a whale, and a whale moving toward you. The guidelines refer to active approaches by people, and so stipulate how far you are allowed to move towards a whale. When you reach that distance, you should stand off and wait. Sometimes a whale will move towards you and will come much closer than you are permitted to actively approach it. This situation is not in conflict with the guidelines. You are allowing the whale to determine whether it wishes to interact or not. When operating on the water the difference is usually obvious. If a whale wants to interact, it will remain with the vessel or swimmer, which can drift passively with the whale keeping pace. If you are actively motoring or swimming to stay within a certain distance of a whale, this means that the animal is moving away from you and is choosing not to interact with or approach you. In this situation you are contravening the guidelines if you are closer than the specified distances.
Don't feed the whales!
Like any wild animals, whales are well adapted to finding food in their natural environment. They are able to choose the type of foods that will provide them with the correct nutritional balance, and to consume the correct amount of food to keep them in good health. Feeding is a very social activity for many whales and provisioning by humans interferes with hunting and other natural socialising behaviours. There are environmental, health and safety concerns associated with deliberate feeding. In most cases feeding by humans has been shown to have adverse effects.
Do not Touch whales or dolphins.
Touching is not encouraged as ‘friendly’ whales and dolphins accustomed to these encounters may become over zealous, placing both themselves and humans at risk. Disease transmission is also possible when close contact occurs. If a whale or dolphin comes close to you, avoid touching or sudden movements that might startle it.
Be Quiet and listen to the whales.
Whales have sensitive hearing and sound plays an important role in communication, navigation and prey location. Sound may be used to convey information about territory, status, danger, food or position. Noise that humans introduce into the underwater environment can mask important sounds or damage the whales hearing. It is very difficult to determine how a whale may react to a particular sound or how severe the effects may be, so production of noise should be minimised. Avoid making loud or sudden noises near whales. If a whale comes close to you or your boat remain quiet, the playback of underwater sound of any kind (biological or non-biological) should not occur. This includes playback of recorded whale or dolphin sounds or song. On the other hand the use of an underwater microphone (hydrophone) suspended in the water to listen to underwater sounds of the marine environment and whales in particular is allowed and encouraged.
- MadMermaids Scuba Ltd.