Dolphin Research Institute Tour to Tonga


Simon Mustoe

BY Jeff Weir, Executive Director, Dolphin Research Institute

The experience of being approached by a curious whale five-hundred times your size, affects people in different ways. Some scream with excitement, some concentrate on the viewfinder of their camera, others like myself, take a very deep breath and absorb the moment. 

We were in the water with humpback whales off Tongatapu in Tonga’s main island group. The whales circled us, performing graceful pirouettes and blowing bubbles before making graceful exit. Then it was time to re-board the Blue Water Explorer to our skipper and guide Dave Donnelly. 

Dave has been leading the development of whale swims on Tongatapu, establishing a regime of wildlife welfare and safety standards that far exceed the requirements of authorities.

Not swimming with mum-calf pairs and having no more than four swimmers in the water with a safety diver, makes this this operation stand out in terms of their concern for both the whales and people. Dave also logs all his sightings and photos with scientific colleague so the trips also contribute to our wider understanding. 

The total package over seven nights, with five days on the water was ideal. You need the five days on the water to account for weather and the moods of the whales. Dave’s team and the Tongan locals make you feel welcome and listened-to from the moment you arrive. 

Four of us travelled from Melbourne for the seven-day trip. We are all connected through the Melbourne-based Dolphin Research Institute. 

After experiencing the operation provided by Dave and his team first-hand, the Institute has agreed to put aside a week in 2017 that we will recommend to our supporters as both an experience of a lifetime and excellent example of ethical ecotourism.

“The wonder of looking into the eye of a humpback whale off Tonga was a remarkable and moving experience that reminded me of why I became a biologist in the first place. Dave’s commitment to the welfare and understanding of the whales, combined with his gift as a skipper and guide, make the Blue Water Explorer whale swims a standout ethical ecotourism experience that I am delighted to recommend.”

Jeff Weir, Executive Director, Dolphin Research Institute

Wildiaries • October 2016