Hi! I have currently spent 5 whale seasons in French Polynesia and wants to write a blog post about what it is really like swimming with humpback whales in French Polynesia.
Swimming with humpback whales is truly an incredible experience. During the months of July-November, the southern hemisphere population of humpback whales starts their winter migration with a portion of the population choosing the islands of French Polynesia as their destination. Typically, observations become consistent around the end of July and extend through the beginning of November with the peak of the season being from mid-August to mid-October. French Polynesia remains one of the few locations in the world where we are able to enter the water with humpback whales to observe them directly. Allowing the whales to continue their natural behavior, mating rituals, and migrational movements is vital for a healthy marine environment.
After spending five incredible whale seasons in French Polynesia, I've got the scoop on how to make the most of it, all while staying true to my personal style. Over the years, I've seen a big shift in the number of tourists coming here to swim with whales. The whale season, compared to when I first started, now gets fully booked, and that means more boats and companies out on the water. While you can swim with humpback whales in Tahiti, the real hub for whale tours is Mo'orea, just a short 30-minute ferry ride away. In-water encounters with humpback whales are not guaranteed and may only begin under permit August 1st.
So, let's break down the options. You can choose shared tours, private tours, or expeditions. Shared tours are the budget-friendly choice, lasting around 3-4 hours. Some even include a lagoon stop to swim with sharks and rays. These tours usually accommodate up to 12 people with one guide. However, some boats keep it intimate with just 6 guests. The catch with shared tours is that your experience depends on the group's pace – slower swimmers might affect everyone's chances of seeing whales.
Another route is the private tour, where you have the boat all to yourselves. Some companies only offer private tours, while others give you the choice. Boats vary from 6 to 12 people, and you decide who joins you. It's more flexible, whether you want to focus solely on the whales or add a side trip to the lagoon. You can even choose half-day or full-day tours, with some boats providing food. Of course the is a pricey option but is in my personal opinion a better way to experience the whales.
For a longer, more immersive experience, expeditions are the way to go. Organized by foreign companies or individuals, these trips last a week or more and include accommodations. They're great if you want to share costs or if you're traveling solo. If you're interested in purchasing photos to remember your whale experience, some boats offer onboard photographers for shared or private tours. I also provide photography packages for private tours. If you'd like me to capture your special moment, you can get in touch with me through this contact link.
Here are some more shots I have capture here over the 5 whale seasons I have spent here...
Remember, we're visitors in the whales' home, so rules matter. The code of conduct changes with the seasons, but respecting these rules is a must. They're in place to ensure our presence doesn't disturb these majestic creatures. This is the most current, up-to-date regulation code of conduct for observing humpback whale...
There is currently NO LIMIT to number of vessels allowed per whale. As tourism continues to grow in Mo’orea and the number of operators increases each year, the tour operators are to ensure that respect for the whales is the priority of our operation. The tours are not to add stress, force interactions, or condone the harassment of the humpback whales. For this reason, we generally do not enter the water with whales already accompanied by 3+ vessels. We also do not pursue whales that are moving quickly trying to move out of the area and away from boats. Humpback whales rely on their energy reserves to make the migration back to Antarctica after their time here in Mo’orea where there are no food resources available to them.
The boat cannot approach the whales closer than 100m (150m for mom and calf). You must swim the remaining distance to the whales. You will not be dropped directly onto the whales. It is a calm, slow-paced swim. If you need assistance with the swim our guides can aid you. We also offer floatation devices.
No freediving with the humpback whales. This is to provide the best interaction possible and also to respect the whales. Diving to their depth can be seen as an intimidating gesture to the whales and often will cause them to leave. This regulation is established to not disturb the whales and also to prevent disruption of observation for other observers. The whales hold their breath for anywhere from 5-30 minutes and will come to the surface. Patience is key!
No chasing or swimming after the humpback whales. The whales are wild, sentient beings and we cannot force them and will not try to force ourselves into a desired interaction. The whale chooses whether it is feeling curious or playful and if it would like to approach us. Our guides are constantly observing the behavior to place you in the best position to maximize your viewing experience. Trust your guide and remember, you can’t control wildlife!
You must stay with your group and your guide. You cannot venture off on your own with the humpback whales. This is for your safety & the whales.
Whether you're drawn to shared adventures, the exclusivity of private tours, or the camaraderie of expeditions, French Polynesia offers it all. Let your style guide you, and let the whales greet you in their incredible world – just as they've done for me, season after season.
For more about my oceanic adventures and curated expeditions to swim with the whales, head over to www.wanderoutexpeditions.com. Furthermore, I provide an in-depth guide to the captivating island of Mo'orea, complete with a list of whale tour operators for you to consider. You can find the guide on my shop here.