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.
On Tahiti, 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.
On Moorea, 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.
On Rurutu, 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.
In order to ensure the Islands of Tahiti continue to be a special place for watching whales and dolphins, a number rules must be observed.
- Maintain a cautious distance (50 metres from a single individual and 100 metres from a mother with calf.
- Let the creatures come to you and do not approach them from behind.
- Maintain a constant speed and gradually change course.
- Do not trap or block the whales against the reef.