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Extent of whale and dolphin watching
The Kingdom of Tonga is a small island nation in the middle of the South Pacific. In 2006 its estimated population of 100,000 people was spread out over 36 inhabited islands, with two thirds concentrated on the main island of Tongatapu1. Humpback whales that feed in the Antarctic during the Southern Hemisphere summer, come to Tonga to mate, give birth, and nurse their calves during the Southern hemisphere winter, from July to October. During this time, they are the focus of an increasingly popular whale watching industry that includes the opportunity for snorkelers to experience in- water encounters with whales. One of the few countries in the world to permit swimming with whales, possible in part due to the existence of sheltered areas with calm and clear waters, the activity draws tourists from all over the world.
Target species, peak times of year and locations:
While various dolphin species can also be observed during whale watching tours, commercial whale watching in Tonga focuses almost exclusively on one species, and is thus limited to the months that humpback whales are present in their tropical breeding grounds. Today there are between 35 and 50 licensed whale watching vessels in Tonga. The majority of operators are on the island of Vava’u which has an international airport and is the centre of whale watch tourism, but a smaller number of operators offer tours from Tongatapu, ‘Eua and Ha’apai.