Whale Watching and Tourism in Tonga

Whale Watching and Tourism in Tonga

Whale Watching Tonga


By Allan Bowe, Whale Watch Vava'u & Mounu Island Resort


Whale Watch Vava'u pioneered swimming with the humpback whales commencing operations in 1993. From a zero base, the industry has now grown to become a major tourist attraction for the Kingdom generating in excess of US$2.5 million annually and growing.


Tonga is one of only two countries in the world where it is legal to swim with the whales. The Tongan Government, after receiving submissions from the Tongan Whale Watch Operators Association and a number of NGOs recently approved regulations governing behavior with the whales, limiting the number of licensed operators and the number of boats operating. This has helped ensuring minimal impacts whilst ensuring maximum exposure.


This past season, Wale Watch Vava'u experienced significant growth in the number of Japanese tourists participating in the whale watching trips, which is interesting given the Japanese government’s announcement earlier this year to extend the country’s whaling to include 50 humpback whales.

Humpback Whales

Each year a group of humpback whales leave their Antarctic feeding grounds and migrate to the warm waters of Tonga. At birth humpback whale calves have little body fat and would not survive in the icy waters of Antarctica, hence the annual return to our warm waters for birthing and mating.

Whale Watching in Tonga

In 1978 the King of Tonga banned whaling by Royal Decree in all of Tonga’s waters. This decision predated the moratorium on commercial whaling by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) by eight years. Over its 50 year lifetime one whale alone is estimated to generate more than one million US$ in direct income from whale watching. Whales are now a centerpiece of Tonga's tourism industry and Tonga has continued to effectively conserve all cetaceans in its waters through national laws and the responsible actions taken by the Tongan Government to manage whale watching tourism.


*Source: International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)


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