Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are among the most charismatic and well-known of marine mammals. Most everyone has seen images of humpbacks, and many have heard recordings of their haunting songs. Few people, however, have ever seen a humpback, much less been in the water with one.
If you're looking for an opportunity to swim among these gentle giants, take photo/ video of them, and learn about their behaviour, the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific is one of the few places you can go to do so.
Next year will be my 10th season in Tonga. Over time, I've spent dozens of hours in the water with these whales, and I've learned a lot about how they behave. With this experience, I've taken hundreds of people into the water for high-quality, personal encounters with humpback whales.
For just about everyone, it's a life-changing experience. Even the most jaded and cynical of people who've "been there, done that" come out babbling like little kids after they've experienced eye contact with a humpback.
It's an experience you can't really put into words. You have to do it to understand. Over the years, I've come to appreciate and enjoy everyone's reactions as much as I do my time in the water with the whales.
This year (2009), I organised a single, seven-day trip for six people from outside Japan (all my other trips are for Japanese travellers). To be honest, I was hesitant about doing this, as coordinating people from around the world and from different cultures poses a much greater logistical challenge than working with groups just from Japan.
In hindsight, I'm really glad I did it though, as I made some really great new friends, and I know that everyone on the trip thoroughly enjoyed this unique experience.
So...for the 2010 humpback whale season in Tonga, I'm going to be a bit more ambitious, and I'm planning two trips, six people per trip:
Trip 1: 14-20 August 2010 Fully Booked
Trip 2: 21 August - 31 August 2010 Fully Booked
If you're interested in either of these trips, please use my contact form to let me know.
If you're thinking about it, but aren't really sure, please look back through my blog archives and read some of the entries from August and September of each year. The Tonga-related posts will give you a better idea of the conditions, what to expect, etc.
I'll be continuing with the calf count that my friend Takaji and I started in 2008, so if you join one or both of the trips...expect to be put to work looking for baby whales!
Update 05 October: The trips are fully booked. If you'd like to be informed if someone needs to cancel, please drop me a note via my contact form.