Swim with whales by NomadInMe.
Swimming with whales is a life-changing experience but may not be for everyone. The best places to swim with whales are Tonga, Australia, Dominica, Silver Banks, French Polynesia and Norway. Read more to learn more about the best places in the world to swim with whales.
When I am asked whats my best underwater experience was, the times that I have encountered Humpback Whales are the first that come to mind. Swimming with whales has to be the ultimate bucket list experience for any underwater enthusiast. The sheer size of these animals and often the settings that they happen in, are enough to make it a truly unforgettable experience.
This type of tourism is fairly new and perfectly safe when being done correctly under the watch of professionals. This does not however, mean it is easy. There are a handful of places in the world where you can swim with whales safely. A majority of these destinations, for most of us, are remote and hard to get to.
In the article, we will cover the best destinations around the world to swim with whales. Including information about the destination, flights, accommodation, operators and other things to do.
The Humpback Whale is a species of baleen whale, they grow up to 16 metres (52ft) and can weigh up to 30 tons. Humpbacks are distinctive in their appearance and behaviour, large pectoral fins, with lumps over its head. They are known for their playful surface behaviour and breaching. They are found in oceans and seas around the world and typically migrate up to 16,000 miles each year. They feed in the northern and southern polar winters. Then migrate to the tropics to breed, birth young, whilst doing so living off their fat reserves. With a diet consisting of krill, plankton and small fish, they have a collection of fascinating feeding techniques.
Like many large whales, humpbacks were targeted by the whaling industry pushing them to the brink of extinction. Due to international whale laws, numbers have risen but not to the same amount. This is most likely due to other environmental factors affecting our planet. Humpback whales are the most featured in this article and one of the most popular whales to interact with.
The sperm whale is without a doubt one of the most fascinating animals alive today. It is the largest toothed whale and the largest toothed predator on the planet. It also has the largest brain of any animal and the most complex language aside’s humans. Sperm whales are incredibly loud animals and use this to communicate and hunt. It is one of the in its family including the pygmy sperm whale and the dwarf sperm whale. They grow up to 20 metres (68ft) and they are the 3rd deepest diving animal on the planet. Known to dive as deep 2250 metres (7,382 ft), to hunt for giant squid.
The sperm whale is a pelagic mammal and can be found around the world. It is one of the in its family including the pygmy sperm whale and the dwarf sperm whale. It will migrate seasonally to feed and breed. Females and young males live together in groups, while the older males live alone unless breeding. The females care for their calves for around 12 years. Due to the type of habitat, they are found in and their behaviour they are a hard animal to locate. Scroll down to find out about a location where you encounter a resident population!
Orca also known as killer whales are toothed whales and the largest in the oceanic dolphin family. They grow to 6 to 8 metres (20 to 26 ft) long and weigh in excess of 6 tonnes. They hunt a wide variety of prey and individual groups generally have their own methods of hunting depending on where they are and what they are targeting. They are extremely intelligent and live in family groups that are said to be the most stable in the animal kingdom. Their sophisticated hunting techniques and vocal behaviours are distinctive between individual groups.
The orca featured on this list hunt primarily sardines. Whereas the populations located on the east and west coast of Australia, are targeting humpback whale calves. These extremely adaptive and intelligent animals are one of the most fascinating on the planet. Orca can be observed in captivity at establishments such as SeaWorld. I would strongly recommend not visiting or supporting such companies. Instead observe the animals in the world through an eco tourism company, inturn supporting the protection and conservation of these magnificent animals.
Swim With Whales Tonga
Time Of Year – July – October
Water Temperature – 83-85°F (27-29°C)
Best Operator – http://www.whalesinthewild.com/index.htm
Tonga has to be the top of the list for swimming with whales. It is well known as one of the best and most reliable places in the world to swim with humpback whales. The warm and calm tropical waters make for perfect swimming and photography conditions. Where you will find southern pacific humpback whales birthing and mating. This means that you can experience the magic of sharing space with a female and her calf. Or the rush of a group of males frolicking for a mate.
The Kingdom Of Tonga is a Polynesian archipelago of 169 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. With a total surface area of 290 square miles, which is spread over 270,000 square miles of the southern Pacific Ocean. Tonga has a population of around 100,000 people, with 70% of that population residing on the main island of Tongatapu. Being so sparsely populated and with so many uninhabited island, you can imagine that it is the ultimate explorers play ground. Both above and under the water.
Tonga is a picture-perfect paradise. With deep blue Pacific ocean becoming turquoise blue lagoons then rising out of the water with lush green rainforest and perfect palm tree fringed white sand beaches. Other than swimming with humpback whales, Tonga has a vibrant culture with warm and welcoming people. The islands are great for exploring the countless beaches and lush rainforest that fills the islands. Under the water, there is more than just whales to see with great scuba diving, snorkelling and fishing.
From the United Sates. There are 3 flights to Tonga from the United States on Air Pacific. They depart from Los Angeles (LAX) via Nadi, Fiji which is about 10 hours. Then a change of planes for the approximate 1-hour flight to Nuku′alofa, Tonga.
From the United Kingdom. Air New Zealand has daily flights from London to Los Angeles with a once a week connection from Los Angeles to Tonga.
Where To Stay
Luxury – https://www.tongabeachhouse.com/accommodation
Mid range – https://reefresortvavau.com/acommodations/deluxe-room/
Budget – http://www.mysticsands.net/index.php/new-booking-system?view=roomdetails&roomid=1
Swim With Whales Australia
Australia recently began handing out licenses for in-water whale interactions. With the infrastructure and organisation in place with regards to the Australian department of environment. You can be sure that strict guidelines and procedures are in place for the safety of the swimmer and minimising the disturbance on the animals. Humpback Whale swimming tours can be found on the east and west coast of Australia, both offering a truly unique and memorable experience.
The Ningaloo Reef
Time Of Year – August / September
Water Temperature – 23°C – 73°F
Best Operator – https://www.ningaloowhalesharks.com/
Exmouth and Coral Bay are located about 1500km north of Perth. Here you will find the incredible Ningaloo Reef. This fringing Coral Reef is known for its superb fishing, diving and snorkelling. It is also famous around the world for its Whale Shark, Manta Ray and Humpback Whale encounters and tours.
Recently, a handful of operators were offered licenses to take people swimming with the humpback whales. Customers were previously not allowed to enter the waters with the animals. However it would often occur during swims with whale sharks. The Ningaloo reef has a very dense population that travels from the southern Indian ocean to their pupping grounds. This means that the whales are encountered on their journey north and back south. As a result, the encounters are more fleeting. With the Humpback in transit.
This part of Australia is extremely remote and dry. It is however stunning and the Ningaloo Reef itself is one of the most amazing and rich reef systems that I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The Cape Range National Park is a world heritage site and offers countless camping areas.
To learn more about Exmouth and swimming with whale sharks view this article https://nomadinme.com/swim-with-whale-sharks/.
Skywest / Virgin and Qantas Airlines operate daily flights from Perth to Learmonth Airport. When flying from the Uk or the United States, fly to Perth. Learmonth airport can only be accessed via Perth.
Where To Stay
Time Of Year – June – October
Water Temperature – 19°C -23°C – 66°F – 73°F
Best Operator – https://sunreef.com.au/
The sunshine coast located north of Brisbane in south-east Queensland is the east coast’s Humpback Whale swimming location. Most tours depart from Hervey Bay and Mooloolaba with a majority of the swims taking place off Fraser Island. Here you will find migratory southern pacific humpback whales. The Sunshine Coast is an extremely beautiful yet accessible part of Australia. A Humpback Whale swim could be easily incorporated into a vacation to the East Coast of Australia with so much on offer.
The Sunshine Coast is best accessed from Brisbane. Direct flights are available from Los Angeles (LAX) and flights are available from London with stopovers in various Asian countries.
Where To Stay
Swim With Whales Dominica
Time Of Year – All Year Round
Water Temperature – 26 °C – 79 °F
Best Operator – https://www.indigosafaris.com/dominica-sperm-whales.html
Dominica is a small Caribbean island nation located between Guadeloupe and Martinique, halfway through the chain of Lesser Antilles islands that separate the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It is not your average Caribbean Island with volcanoes, waterfalls, rainforests, rivers, and an abundance of native flora and fauna. And, as expected for this part of the world the diving is very good, the west coast is among the best in the Caribbean.
The real magic starts offshore where one of the most fascinating animals on the planet is known to frequent. Sperm Whales use the deep clear waters to hunt for giant squid and between feeding they rest on the surface. Sperm Whales are drastically different from Humpbacks. They are the largest predatory animal on the planet. As a toothed-whale, they hunt for prey instead of filter feeding filter feeding.
Sperm Whales have the largest brain in the animal kingdom as well as what is thought to be the most complex language besides humans and the noisiest animal on the planet. Sightings of these giants is rare and the waters around Dominica offer one of the rare opportunities to not only see underwater but to engage with.
To find out more about Dominica, view my recent article on the Caribbeans best 30 islands, https://nomadinme.com/30-best-caribbean-islands/.
You can get to Dominica by plane or ferry. The island has two airports, Melville Hall Airport and Canefield airport. Since these are not international airports, it is necessary to take a connecting flight from a nearby island such as Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua or St. Martin. You can view the Dominica Airport Schedule by Clicking Here.
Where To Stay
Swim With Whales Silver Banks
Time Of Year – December to April
Water Temperature – 27°C (80°F)
Best Operator – https://www.aquaticadventures.com/
The Silver banks can be found around 90 miles north of the Dominican Republic and is a pupping and mating ground for a large population of Northern Humpback whales. This offshore reef system is the destination and whales can be found resting in the warm calm waters. Females nurse their young, getting them strong for the return journey to the North Atlantic. Males compete and show off to find a female. The Silver Banks are home to by far the largest population of migratory north Atlantic Humpbacks with up to 7000 passing through the area in a single season.
Trips to the Silver Bank generally depart from Punta Cana or Turks and Caicos and are in the form of live aboard cruises. Both the Turks and Caicos and Dominican republic are popular Caribbean holiday destinations and you could easily coincide your visit to the Silver Bank with some time spent on land enjoying these beautiful islands.
To find out more about the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos, view my article on the 30 best Caribbean Islands https://nomadinme.com/30-best-caribbean-islands/
The Silver Bank is most commonly accessed via the Dominican Republic by way of a liveaboard cruise. You can fly to the DR via multiple American and European airports.
Where To Stay
Luxury – https://tortugabayhotel.com/
Mid Range – https://www.barcelo.com/en-us/barcelo-bavaro-palace/
Budget – https://loscorales.net/
Swim With Whales French Polynesia
Time Of Year – August – November
Water Temperature – (88°F − 32°C)
Best Operator – https://moorea-ocean-adventures.com/whale-watching-tour/
The Island of Moorea in French Polynesia is another Pacific Humpback Whale mecca. Here Antarctic Humpbacks migrate to give birth, raise their young a find a mate. These islands are popular honeymoon destinations with flights to Tahiti from the west coast of the United States. Making them more accessible and with more amenities than Tonga. One downside is fewer regulations exist so you will likely find larger groups in the water.
A plus of a swim with whales in French Polynesia is it can very much be incorporated into a vacation. Some of the most beautiful and picturesque beaches and landscapes in the world can be found in this neck of the woods. Diving and snorkelling are world-class here and so is the hiking, you will find a large selection of high-end hotels and restaurants.
Moorea can be accessed by boat from Tahiti. To get to Tahiti Nui or Air France flights departing from Paris. Air Tahiti Nui operates 5 flights a week from Paris via Los Angeles. Air France has 3 flights a week from Paris via Los Angeles).
Where To Stay
Swim With Whales Norway
Time Of Year – October – January
Water Temperature – 43°F – 34°F – 1°C – 6°C (cold)
Best Operator – https://www.orcanorway.info/
Now for something a little different. Norway is one of the only places in the World, where you can safely swim with wild Orcas / Killer Whales. From October to December in the Norwegian Fjords, Heron run Northward through the Fjords. Here you will find large numbers of whales congregating to feed. Humpback whales and orcas sometimes double figures in a single sighting can be observed above and below the water during these months. Generally, 3 and 6 days tours are available. These tours are well regulated and run with a high emphasis on safety.
This part of Northern Norway is rugged and beautiful. The Northern Lights are visible this time of year and the area offers great hiking. With regards to the Orcas, seeing these animals in the wild is a once in a lifetime opportunity and well worth the challenges involved.
Boats depart from Tromso which is a town in Northern Norway. Direct flights are available from London Gatwick as well as other locations around Europe.
Where To Stay
Luxury – https://exxo-luxury-apartments-tromso.booked.net/
Mid Range – https://www.nordicchoicehotels.com/hotels/norway/tromso/clarion-hotel-the-edge/
Budget – https://www.nordicchoicehotels.com/hotels/norway/tromso/comfort-hotel-xpress-tromso/
Other Places to Swim With Whales
Bellow are some other notable locations where you can swim with whales and observe them on the surface. A short description, the best time of year to see them and a link to find out more information or book a tour are included.
Swim With Whales Grand Turk
Grand Turk is a part of the Turks and Caicos Islands. The same humpback whales previously mentioned in the Silver Banks pass through this area. The remote cays and shallow waters make it a great place to see and even swim with the Northern Atlantic Humpback Whales.
Time of year – January to April
Find out more – https://crystalseasadventures.com/
Swim With Whales Sea of Cortez
The Sea of Cortez also known as the Gulf of California is found on Mexicos Pacific coast. It is one of the most biodiverse parts of the ocean and known to be home to many large whales, dolphins, sharks and pelagic fish species. You can see 33 of the currently recognised 86 species of whale, dolphin and porpoise here. The sea of Cortez is known as one of the best places in the world to observe grey whales, that use the protected area when birthing.
Time of year – Different species can be seen year-round
Find out more – https://whalewatchcabo.com/sea-of-cortez-the-aquarium-of-the-world
Swim With Whales Costa Rica
Costa Rica means rich coast and the same can be said about its permanent and migratory whale population. Southern Pacific Costa Rica is home to migratory humpbacks from both the southern and northern Pacific Ocean. The Ballena National Park and The Gulfo Dulce are very popular whale watching locations with some opportunity to enter the water.
Time of year – December to April and July to Novermber
Find out more – http://www.scubadivingcostarica.com/coastal-tours-and-whale-watching/
Swim With Whales The Azores
The Azores are located in the Atlantic Ocean of the coast of Portugal. They are home to one-third of the worlds whale and dolphin species with some being residents of the waters and other passing through on their migrations. You will find many companies offering whale watching, some offering the opportunity to jump in. Some notable species found here are: Atlantic spotted dolphins, pilot whales, striped dolphins, blue whales, fin whales sei whales and humpback whales with a resident population of sperm whales.
Time of year – April to October
Find out more – https://www.futurismo.pt/en/activity/whale-watching
Swim With Whales Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is home to the Pygmy Blue Whale a slightly smaller sub species of the Blue whale. They grow to 24 metres and are an incredibly elusive animal and know to be very hard to find. During March and April they can be seen in the waters of the west coast of Sri Lanka. You will find some opportunities to attempt to swim with these animals although dont be fooled by their size, with a max speed of 30 mph!
Time of year – March and April
Find out more – https://www.naturalworldsafaris.com/experiences/natures-great-events/blue-whales-in-sri-lanka
Swim With Whales Reunion Island
Humpback whales migrate to the waters around Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean to give birth and reproduce then return to Antarctica. Some operators will allow people to enter the water with the animals. Strict rules apply and 4 people max per whale at any one time.
Time of year – Mid-August to Mid-September
Find out more – https://en.reunion.fr/organize/our-experiences/encounters-with-dolphins-and-whales/
Have you had an encounter that you would like to share? Or do you know of any great places or companies that offer the opportunity to swim with whales? Comment below and share to enjoy a discussion on these fascinating animals!
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