Whale Watching Guidelines For Tonga

Whale watching guidelines for Tonga:

  • Whales may leave an area permanently if continually disturbed. Cease contact at any sign of whales, particularly mothers and calves, becoming distressed or alarmed.
  • Respect the marine environment. Disposal of rubbish into the sea, particularly plastics, can kill whales and other marine life through accidental swallowing/entanglement etc. All vessels are to provided receptacles for rubbish collection which is to be returned and properly disposed of on shore.

Whale Watching Guidelines On Water, In Tonga

  • All vessels both private and commercial, under power or under sail, operating in Tonga during whale watching season must take care to remain outside a 300 meter radius of sighted whale. If a vessel finds itself within a 300 meters radius of a whale, the vessel must slow to 4 knots until 300 meters away.
  • If whales approach a vessel, the vessel must avoid sudden changes in movement until the whale moves on. When leaving a whale, vessels must move away very slowly ( no wake speed) until at least 100 meters away.
  • Licensed operators only may either remain stationary within 300 meters of s whale or approach a whale no faster than 4 knots within 300-100 meters of a whale.

Whale Watching Guidelines In The Caution Zone

The whale watching guideline's Caution Zone is a 100-300 meter diameter circle. Only licensed operators are allowed in the caution Zone.

  • No more than two licensed whale operator vessels may be in the caution zone at any one time
  • As a matter of courtesy, vessels should limit their time within the caution zone if other vessels wish to enter.
  • If a licensed vessel is on its own with a whale(s) there is no time limit. However, if a second licensed vessel arrives a one and a half hour time limit starts to apply within the Caution Zone for the first vessel.
  • All licensed vessels within the 300 meter zone should gain VHF radio contact with others. VHF 74 (low power) is to be the VHF channel monitored by licensed vessels within 300 meter zone.
  • In the event of the VHF radio not working that vessel should remain outside the 100 meter Caution Zone.
  • Dinghies, small boats, and Kayaks engaged in whale watching within the 300 meter zone must carry handheld VHF radios.
  • Two or more Kayaks within the Caution Zone, if belonging to the license holder are considered as one licensed operator.
  • The Caution Zone moves with the whale(s). Vessels in restricted 300 meter area allow the vessels who were initially in the Caution Zone to move with the whale(s) if the whale(s) move closer to them.
  • The licensed vessel with swimmers in the water may cautiously approach a whale up to 10 meters, if necessary, to pick up swimmers. The vessel should be stationary at 10 meters and should never be closer than 10 meters.
  • Vessels should approach whales from the side as opposed to directly in front or behind. Vessels must not approach whales in the exclusion zone.( the front 30 degrees of the whale).
  • Vessels must not box whales in, cut off their path or herd or chase them.
  • Vessels must minimise boat and other noise, eg: gear shifting

Swimming with whales Tonga Guidelines

  • For the protection of the whales, and swimmers, it is required to go with a licensed operator if you wish to swim with whales in Tonga.
  • Conditions that allow swimming are at the skipper's discretion.
  • If there are six or more clients on board a vessel an extra crew member is on board in addition to the skipper. It is recommended that Tongan staff are given preference.
  • No more than four clients plus one more guide per vessel may swim with any one group of whales at a time.
  • Only one vessel may have swimmers in the water with any one group of whales at a time.
  • An alpha flag is to be flown when swimmers are in the water.
  • When a second vessel approaches a vessel with clients in the water, the second vessel must remain outside the 100 meter zone to give safe maneuverability to the first vessel.
  • A first aid kit, 10 meter line and float should be on board the vessels. It is recommended that vessels if possible should use an attached safe tybline ( no longer than ten meter) with an identification buoy.

Whale Watching Guidelines Activities Banned for interacting with whales

  • The use of SCUBA equipment.
  • The use of artificial light sources
  • The use of jet skis and motorised swimming aids. Jet skis must stay 2,000 meters away when in vicinity of whales.

Tonga Whale Watching Guidelines For Specialist Interactions

Specialists include scientific researchers and commercial filmmakers/photographers who must obtain specialist licenses and all necessary permits from relevant government agencies.

When working with whales specialists must adhere to the Whale Watching Regulations as specified in their respective permits, and notify local operators of their presence and intentions.

Whale Watching From Air Guidelines

  • Aircraft ( including seaplanes, microlite and light aircraft) must maintain a minimum height of 300 meters from he whale.
  • No aircraft may land on the water to whale watch.
  • The duration of whale encounter by air craft is limited to five minutes or two approaches (sweeps).
  • No more than one whale watching aircraft may be within five km of the whales being watched. 
  • Ban on helicopters for watching whales.
  • Ban on remote control aircraft.

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