Every year over the same time period, humpback whales come to French Polynesia from Antarctica. The first few are sighted in June and the last ones depart our islands in early December. The peak season is between mid-August and the end of October. Encounters during this period are very frequent.
Breeding females come to deliver their calves in the warm waters of Tahiti and the other adults come to find a mate while being sheltered from their natural off shore predators.
Whale watching should involve a professionally trained guide who will have the skills to determine the whales’ activity phases (such as socializing, resting or moving). Boats or tenders should always slow down when they get close to the animals and never turn the engine off.
The guide will adopt a proper behaviour so that the animals are respected and not bothered. Whale and dolphin watching is strictly regulated by law in Tahiti and Her Islands since the area has been designated as a sanctuary for these mammals.
Humpback whales spend 5 months in the Islands of Tahiti to breed and give birth. They spend the rest of the year feeding in Antarctic waters. Whale season has always punctuated the year for Tahitians. It starts at the end of June or early July when the atae, also called the whale tree, blossoms to herald the whales’ arrival in Tahitian waters. The whales leave the Islands of Tahiti in late October when the newborn calves are strong enough to begin their migration to Antarctica.
Whales swim off the coast of most islands but some locations more organised than others for whale-watching.
You can spot whales from shore (such as from Pointe des Pêcheurs in the morning and in the evening). Diving clubs organise whale-watching excursions: they are kept informed of the whales’ location and are often willing to refund the cost if no whales are sighted during the outing.
Excursion operators are very hospitable and respectful of the animals. Some boats have a glass bottom so you can see stingrays, blacktip reef sharks and dolphins.
Very famous for whale-watching, you can see whales from July to October. As Rurutu has no lagoons, the whales come close to shore and observation points have been set up along the coastal road.
The operator (often a diving club) knows where the whales are from experience and from information provided by fishermen or other operators. You can see whales from a distance when they breach or expel water from their blowholes. The boat slowly approaches to line up with the whales’ path without really pursuing them. The tour guide determines the best time to get into the water with flippers, diving mask and snorkels. Before your encounter with this fascinating creature, it is customary to listen to the males sing by putting your head underwater. The magic happens when a whale approaches your group to let you admire its magnificence.
The Islands of Tahiti have been declared a Marine Mammal Sanctuary and there has been a moratorium on whale-hunting since 1986. Whale-watching is regulated and a permit has been required since 2002.
If you’d like to experience these magnificent animals up close we can tailor make a package to suit you.