What does it take to get a 'really good swim'

What does it take to get a 'really good swim'

There are a lot of videos and photos of whale encounters on the internet but these only represent the highlights of a tour. If you're thinking of going to Tonga, we thought it would be useful for to know, what to expect and how long it takes to get one of those life-changing moments!

Over the past three years, we've collected data on: number of hours on the water; distance covered; number of pods encountered (and number of animals in each); and duration of encounter. The data also demonstrates our commitment to whale welfare (which is submitted each year to the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium).  

Not many (if any) operators do this and because we have these data, we know what it takes and can show you.

Year Days on water Encounters Hours with whales Distance km Encounters/day
2015 19 88 36 1543 4.6
2016 34 212 81 2528 6.2
2017 15 87 34 1196 5.8
2018 10 72 25 917 7.2

The results are quite consistent. In the season just gone (2018) we had a remarkably good year, mostly because the weather was flat calm the majority of the time.   

Encounters per day 

We average between 4.6-7.2 encounters per day. This doesn't mean it's the same every day or every week. in 2017, the whale encounters per day ranged from 1 - 11 and were below 4 a day for a third of the days. 

Really good swims

So how many encounters to get a 'really good swim'? Of all the 'encounters' only a proportion result in a 'swim' and many of these are fly-bys. If we consider a 'really good swim' as 40 minutes or more, it's about 25% of our encounters.

But this varies year on year. You need four encounters a day, on average, to get a swim but some days we get more, some days fewer. It takes 2-3 days to get one of those 90 minute swims 'of a lifetime' - usually about twice per trip. 


To get a 'really good swim' you need at least two and a half days ... sometimes more, sometimes less.

There are a lot of images and videos online showing spectacular whale swims and that's what we endeavour to get for all our clients but this is just the best of what people show you. 

  • If you choose to go with a day trip, you may not get the swim you expect.
  • Day trips put extra pressure on skippers and guides to deliver on expectations.
  • Day trips put extra pressure on whales.
  • Swims with sub-adult whales often result in long encounters.

Our approach to whale swim tourism employs the world’s best practice which was developed using personal experience and the latest scientific research.

Our highly experienced skipper and guides will ensure that the impact of our activities on whales is minimised through the use of a precautionary approach as well as avoiding sensitive cow/calf pairs.