If you’ve ever dreamt of swimming with whales, then Mo’orea may be the best places for you to visit. On a little island in French Polynesia, you can experience one of the most magical things you may ever do while traveling. Keep reading to learn everything that you need to know about this bucket list experience.
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Is it legal to swim with Whales in Moorea?
Unlike most places around the world, swimming with whales IS indeed legal in French Polynesia. From the months of August to November, you can legally swim with humpback whales, however, these animals are protected. Every interaction swimming with whales must be permitted, so be sure to book a boat tour with a reputable company. We went with Mo’orea Moana Tours, who works closely with Association Oceania, a nonprofit organization that studies the whales, and is a great company for your Moorea whale swim.
The Best Time to Swim With Whales in Moorea
Humpback whales migrate through French Polynesia to reproduce and raise their young because of the relatively warm waters. Whale season runs from July to December, however, the only times you can swim with the whales is August through November. Outside of those months, you are limited to humpback whale tours from boat or shore observation only. The peak time to swim with the whales in Moorea is usually mid-August to mid-October, when you’ll see the most activity.
What Kind of Whales are in French Polynesia
The whales you are most likely to see while whale watching in Moorea and French Polynesia are the Humpback whales. They migrate through the islands and warmer waters while they are nursing their young or trying to find a mate. These are likely the whales you will be swimming with, but you may see other species as well.
Other whale species that visit the Polynesian islands include orcas, sperm whales, and pilot whales. Our guide said if we were in the water and saw pilot whales, that Oceanic White Tip sharks often hang out with them, and we would be instructed to slowly and calmly get back to the boat.Mo’orea is full of marine life, so of course there are lots of dolphins that hang out in the lagoons, and even in the open ocean.
What to Expect When Swimming with Humpback Whales
If you want to swim with whales in Mo’orea, the best way is by booking a guided tour. Tours are usually offered as a 1/2 day (around 4 hours), or full day tours. There is usually a biologist aboard to teach you about the whales, and walk you through swimming protocol and things to look for before hopping in the water.
Once you are on the boat, you’ll be briefed on the plan, and things to look for. Patience is key – as the whales can be anywhere in the area. You may have to make a few circles around the island to find whales to swim with, since some whales are breaching and others are resting. You won’t be in the water with breaching whales as this isn’t safe, so finding some calm/resting whales is pertinent for your swim.
Once you find some resting whales, you may have to wait your turn (as a boat), if there are other tour boats in the area, as to not crowd the whales. Boats can only approach the whales at a distance of 150 meters, so you’ll have to swim a good distance to be near the whales. You’ll don your fins and snorkel, and go over the plan for the rest of the swim.
You’ll only enter the water once you get the OK from the biologist or captain aboard. Our whale swim guides were Keanu & Robert, they were awesome and made everyone feel comfortable getting in the water. If you’re not a strong swimmer, don’t be afraid to hold onto the line that the guide is dragging – it’s a pretty big swim.
Once you are near the whales, you will be around 150 meters away (that is the closest you are allowed to be in the boat). The guide will likely have you swim in front of the whale’s direction, so that when they come up to breathe, they’ll swim past you. You’ll just float at the surface and wait for them to take a breath, meanwhile listening to their songs.
If the whales surface past you, you’ll likely swim in front of them again, to watch them surface one more time. Most companies only have you in the water with the whales briefly, as to not disturb them and give other boats the chance to experience the whales.
What to Bring for your Moorea Whale Swim
If you’re going on a trip to swim with humpback whales in Tahiti (any of her islands), you’ll want to bring these with you on the boat:
- Reef-Safe Sunscreen
- Swimsuit suitable for an active swim
- If you get cold easily in the water, consider a spring suit, wetsuit, or even a neoprene top to stay warm
- Snorkel and fins (if you don’t have any or didn’t bring them, the company should provide you with equipment)
- Reusable filled waterbottle
- Camera (for above the water if you see breaching whales)
- GoPro or underwater camera with strap
- Towel for after the swim
If you’re looking for the eco friendly essentials you need to pack for a trip to the tropics, check out this post so you don’t miss anything!
About the Humpback Whales You May See
Your guide, captain, or biologist aboard will cover more in detail, but these are some interesting facts about the Humpback whales you may be in the water with.
The males are the singers of the species, singing unique songs to attract females. When you’re in the water with them, you can hear their unique songs extremely well.
If you are in the water with a female and her calf, there’s a chance the baby will be curious enough to come up towards your group. If this happens, usually the mother will pull the baby away, but not always before the baby gets close!
You can see breaching from the boat, or even from the shoreline if you keep your eyes out! The whales breach as another form of communication, but their jumps are amazing to witness!
If you’re in the water with the whales, you may see a couple males, mom and calf, or a female and their calf with an “escort”. Humpback whales usually travel in groups of 2 or 3, and the escort is generally a mature whale that helps protect the mother and calf.
Humpback whales are generally a docile species. It is generally safe to swim with whales that are resting or not breaching. Some of the calves may bump into you while you’re in the water, which can pose a risk because they are unaware of their size, although this is not common, as the mother generally pulls the baby away before contact.
Volunteer Opportunity with Oceania
If you are hoping for more involvement than your Moorea whale swim, you can volunteer with the humpback whale research occurring in French Polynesia! Association Oceania offers a monitoring and volunteering trip that lasts 8 days. You will be a part of the first volunteer program dedicated to the preservation of the Humpback whales. You can learn more information about that program here!
While I didn’t get to be a part of the volunteer program, our group trip worked with Association Oceania to learn about the whales and get to experience this incredible, once in a life time chance to swim with humpback whales.