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wildlife & nature • 8 days, 7 nights

Swim with the Singing Whales of Tonga

wildlife & nature • 8 days, 7 nights

Swim with the Singing Whales of Tonga

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  • Group Size 7 People Maximum
  • Activity Level
  • Travel Style
    On the Water

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from $6,550 USD per person
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Trip Overview

Humpback whales are among the most seasoned composers of the sea; stringing together long, drawn-out notes to make complex melodies, they sing to attract a curious listener—more specifically, a mate. Alongside a small group of Atlas Obscura and Tastemade travelers, you’ll have the chance to dive into the waters off the coast of Tonga in search of these ethereal whale songs. Guided by a marine mammal biologist, we’ll spend five full days swimming alongside adult humpbacks, learning about their behavior and habitat, listening to their melodic calls, and capturing recordings and photographs that directly contribute to ongoing conservation research. In the evenings, we’ll relax on the main island of Tongatapu, learning about the culture and history of the Happy Isles.

  • Safe, ethical swims with adult humpback whales
  • Expert marine mammal biologist guides
  • Whale song acoustics
  • Local cultural events


Itineraries and daily schedules are subject to change. We expect to do everything listed in the itinerary, though the order may be rearranged based on weather or other local conditions.

Trip Leaders

Dave Donnelly
Dave Donnelly is a marine mammal researcher with over twenty years field experience and a broad background in marine science including eco-tourism, oil and gas, documentary film making and research. He has worked for six universities on a range of scientific projects. He has been part of the Antarctic Blue Whale Project since January 2012, runs the Australian Orca database and is an experienced tracker of singing Humpback Whales. Dave brings extensive experience to the team as a highly-skilled marine fauna observer, small boat operator and safety diver.
Vanessa Mignon
Vanessa Mignon was born in Brittany, in the West of France, and spent most of her childhood on the beaches of that wild coast. In 2003 she moved to Australia, got her first SLR camera and travelled to remote locations to witness amazing wildlife spectacles including Humpback whales in the Kingdom of Tonga. Vanessa is focused on sharing the beauty of the world and playing a part in protecting it. She is a member of the Ocean Artists Society and an Ambassador for the Undersea Soft Encounter Alliance. She was also awarded the 2015 International Fund for Animal Welfare Animal Action Award as Marine Photographer of the Year.

Additional Info

Traveling Solo?

You’re in good company. Solo travelers typically make up about half of our small groups. With curiosity at the center of our experiences, there’s a natural camaraderie that develops over the course of a trip. 

Private Room: Have your own room, subject to availability, for a supplemental cost of $630. When booking, please select the single room package option.

Arrival and Departure

Flights into Tonga are limited and typically arrive on Tuesday afternoons and very early Thursday mornings (around 1 a.m.). Your trip officially begins with our first swim on Thursday morning (Day 2), but guests arriving on the Tuesday flight can arrange for an extra night at the hotel and meet their guides for an optional welcome dinner on Wednesday (Day 1). Guests arriving on the Thursday morning flight will be transferred to the hotel to get some rest before meeting the group for our first swim on Thursday morning. The trip concludes after breakfast on Day 9. Depending on the time of your departing flight, there may be an opportunity to head into town and visit one of the island’s many cozy cafes.

Activity Level and Swimming Ability

You don’t need to be an expert swimmer to participate in this trip; however, you must be able to swim unaccompanied for prolonged periods of time. We don’t chase after the whales—they come to us—but while in the water, you’ll constantly be moving. We’ll also be on our boat or in the water for the majority of the day, for five full days of the trip. This trip is not recommended for people who experience severe motion sickness or who are not comfortable in the water. 

Vessel Amenities and Equipment

For five full days, you’ll be out on the water for about seven hours (per day) aboard one of the island’s best vessels. The seas aren’t always completely calm, and while it can get a little cold in the wind, there will be plenty of room to get away from the chill. Water temperatures tend to be around 75°F, and you’ll be equipped with hot drinks and wetsuits, fins, and snorkels to use throughout. 

Our boat holds 8 passengers, so the group is a maximum of 7 travelers plus one trip leader (one of the leaders highlighted above).

Animal Safety and Ethics

The World Cetacean Alliance’s Global Guidelines strongly recommend against swimming with cow-calf pairs of any cetacean. In order to ensure safe and ethical interaction with the whales, we will not be swimming with cow-calf pairs. Tonga is a critical breeding area for a small subpopulation of humpback whales, and research has shown that excess interaction with boats and humans can adversely impact the survival and health of vulnerable calves. Additionally, we will not be swimming with heat-runs, when a group of bulls chase a female in heat. Swimming with heat-runs is against Tongan regulations and can be extremely dangerous. We may witness a heat-run from the safety of our boat. 

We operate a risk assessment strategy that uses researched behavioral cues to monitor whale activity. We remove swimmers from the water if our marine mammal biologist guide observes signs of any significant negative change in animal behavior. 

If you have questions about our approach to animal and human safety, please reach out to

  • Accommodation throughout the trip at the Tanoa Dateline Hotel
  • All main meals, plus morning and afternoon tea on the trip
  • Transportation throughout the trip, including tours of Tongatapu Island.
  • One experienced wildlife guide to accompany you for the duration of the trip.
  • Admission to all proposed activities, locations, and events.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura travelers, excited to explore all that Tongatapu has to offer!
  • Global Rescue 24/7 assistance.
  • Special access to unique places and extraordinary experiences.
  • 5 days private group charter of a fully-licensed and comfortable whale swim vessel.
  • Airport transfers.
  • Pre- and post-trip accommodations.
  • Travel insurance (recommended).
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings, including most alcoholic beverages.
  • Any visa or other government-required licenses of permits, if applicable.
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Trip FAQ

Most dietary restrictions can be accommodated, though in most cases ingredients can't be substituted or omitted from particular dishes. If you have a severe allergy, please contact us to find out if this is the right trip for you. 

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Upcoming Departures

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