Swimming with Humpback Whales in Moorea: 2018 Trip Report - Bluewater Dive Travel
Swimming with Humpback Whales in Moorea: 2018 Trip Report

Swimming with Humpback Whales in Moorea: 2018 Trip Report

By Scott Gietler

Landing in Tahiti, I was brimming with excitement. This would be my third trip to swim with humpback whales in French Polynesia, and hopefully a very charming trip. I spent the night in an excellent homestay/pension about 25 minutes from the airport, and enjoyed a friendly chat with the owners and guests over breakfast, although most of the conversation was in French.


Humpback Whale in Moorea Humpback whale in Moorea


I took the 11 AM Ferry the next morning with one of my guests, and already we were off to a good start as I spotted several whales, which pleased the dozens of guests surrounding me on the deck. 35 minutes later we arrived in Moorea, and a 10-minute taxi ride brought us to Hotel Kaveka. That afternoon I chatted with the previous week's guests, who had a fantastic trip and could not stop gushing about their encounters.


Humpback Whale in Moorea Humpback whale in Moorea


We ended up having 5 wonderful days on the water, with several encounters each day, some fleeting, but several close encounters with moms and calves. Although none were hour-long epic sessions, everyone was swimming eye to eye with a whale at some point and captured great video or still photos of the enormous mammals. We also hopped in with dolphins a few times and had some nice, albeit fleeting encounters. And several times we were treated to spectacular displays of socialization, fin slapping, synchronized breaches, and tail waves.


Humpback Whale in Moorea Humpback whale in Moorea


In one memorable encounter, there were 4 whales in total – a mom, calf, and two escorts. A 5th whale even showed up for a brief moment. The fact that this was over a shallow reef in crystal clear water added even more to the encounter.


Humpback Whale in Moorea Snorkeling in Moorea


We did have 2 “bad weather days” mid-week, which we filled with a day of biking / hiking, and an amazing snorkel in a coral reef with sharks, giant stingrays, trevallies and a large moray.


Sharks in Moorea Moorea's underwater photo


Dinners each night were a culinary feast, alternating between fine French food and excellent coal-oven pizza & salads. As we boarded our planes home at the end of the week, we all left with tired leg muscles from a week of brisk swimming, and wonderful memories of our new cetacean friends. Several guests inquired about coming back again!


by Mark strickland

Approaching the tropical island of Moorea, with its dense forests, jagged peaks and aquamarine lagoon surrounded by South Pacifc cobalt-blue, it’s hard to imagine a more scenic place. Actually I’m not sure that one exists, but even if it does, there’s nowhere else we’d prefer to be at this moment. The enchanting beauty of this island was reason enough to come, but our visit was timed for the peak of humpback whale season, when these gentle giants migrate thousands of miles to mate and bear their young. There is always an element of luck required on marine mammal photo trips, as a particular combination of favorable weather, abundant and cooperative animals, and good water conditions is required to get good results. Success is far from guaranteed, but things went very well for us, with multiple in-water sightings on each of the five days that we went out. We did have quite a bit of wind and rain, but plenty of sun as well, along with lots of whales.


Humpback Whale in Moorea Humpback whale in Moorea


Other highlights included swimming with friendly stingrays and blacktip reef sharks on a shallow sandbar, pilot whales and oceanic whitetip sharks in open ocean, and a huge pod of rough-tooth dolphins on the last day. Encounters with humpbacks varied greatly in duration and proximity, sometimes only brief “fly-bys”, other times being prolonged sessions with animals resting at depth and occasionally surfacing among us snorkelers for a breath. On one such occasion, we hovered above a male “singer”, whose strange and beautiful vocalizations were so powerful that we could not only hear them clearly, but actually, feel the vibrations throughout our bodies.  Most of the whales we encountered were young adults, but we did have a brief but very close encounter with a mother and her very young calf on the last day. All in all it was an outstanding trip with a great group of fellow adventurers… I’m already looking forward to the next one!  


Humpback Whale in Moorea Humpback whale in Moorea Humpback whale in Moorea



by Tommy stylski

Our Moorea humpback whale expedition delivered many first time encounters for our team. Early morning swims with pilot whales, oceanic white tips, and male humpbacks singing were the norm before setting off to find whales for the day. The humpbacks gathered in all four corners of the island, our group kept a keen eye on the horizon for spouts or any activity.

It was a team effort working together with the captain and guide to ensure we had the best chances of finding the whales. During our search we spent time on the water watching playful socialization, breath-taking breaches and exciting tail slaps at the surface from the boat. Our hope for an in water encounter was the real reason we all signed up for this trip and it most definitely delivered on that front. During one particular resting period our team patiently entered the water and observed as the relaxed mother and her young peacefully hovered in 40ft of water.


Humpback whales in Moorea


The humpbacks generally rest for 20-30min increments, they slowly approach the surface to breathe and then gracefully dive back down for another quick sleep. This could go on for hours if the whales don't feel threatened or intimidated. We were very lucky to experience this calm behavior for at least 2 hours and it certainly left a lasting impression on each of us.

The island of Moorea has incredible views from land and sea, the jagged, lush green topside topography only adds to the healthy oceans with an abundance of life. Our charter, Tahiti Private Expeditions, is one of the leading operations on the island. They have well maintained and comfortable boats, always professional, extremely knowledgeable and have a deep respect for the ocean, the whales and their craft.


Humpback whale in Moorea Humpback whale in Moorea



by Erik Lukas

When I have presented the opportunity to return for my third time to photograph humpback whales in French Polynesia, I couldn't have been more excited. My prior two trips had been among the most memorable photographic experiences I have had, so I was looking forward to getting back in the water with these amazing animals. This year I was in Moorea about full one month earlier than I had been in the past, early September instead of early October, and I was curious to see how the experiences would differ. Would there be more or fewer newborn calves? More or fewer adults? Different weather patterns? Time would tell.


Humpback whale in Moorea Moorea underwater photo


The trip started out with some rain and high winds on day one, which prevented us from spending time on the water, however as the week progressed we were greeted with clear skies and light winds, which allowed us to begin our search for the whales. On the trip this year were an adventurous group who were no less than excited to be in the water with the humpbacks. On our first day in the water, we had a few short interactions with humpbacks, but none that I would consider to be amazing, but it did give the group a sense of the pace and rhythm of what was to come in the days ahead. One of the highlights of the trip for the entire group was finding a pod of pilot whales and multiple oceanic whitetip sharks, which we were able to swim with and photograph. For many this was their first time seeing either of these animals in the wild and certainly made for an added bonus.


Humpback whale in Moorea Moorea underwater photo


Throughout the week, we continued to have improved weather and several short but incredible encounters with the whales; these ranged from groups of two and three individuals, plus a calf and cow as well as encounters with solo male singer whales who treated us to their amazing songs. As good as those encounters were, none of them would prepare us for the final day of the trip. We found ourselves alone, several miles offshore with a pair of adult whales that indulged us in over four hours of continuous time in the water as they rested and surfaced allowing us to photograph them for as long we wanted. This is the type of interaction and encounter that these trips are all about. 


By Bryan Chu

My trip was a little bit different than a "standard" photo workshop, as I managed to convince my parents, my fiancee, my sister and my brother in law to sign on. So, we booked the whole boat for a week, and I was the only non-GoPro underwater photographer. It was seriously the trip of a lifetime for all of us. None of us could get over how amazing it was being in the water, face-to-face with a humpback which was swimming by only a few feet away! Our first encounter was a moment none of us will ever forget.

We were in the water and had a juvenile humpback swim head-on towards us. Seeing the prehistoric-looking nose materialize out of the blue, and then having it come right up to us and taking a look, was beyond surreal. And things kept getting better throughout the week. We had breaching humpbacks (of course we stayed on the boat around them), and in-water encounters with five mom and baby pairs, two juveniles, a couple of pairs of adults, and one set of three adults. We got to see a calf resting on top of the mom during their resting period, and saw a calf nursing at the surface. Saving the best for last, we went looking for pilot whales on our final day, and found a big pod of them, accompanied by oceanic white tip sharks, humpbacks and rough-toothed dolphins. We also had a couple of nice encounters with spinner dolphins from our boat (they are too shy to get in the water with).


Humpback whale in Moorea Humpback whale in Moorea

Humpback whale in Moorea Humpback whale in Moorea


I got lots of great photos and video, but what is much more important than the photos is the memories that we all took away from it. Amazing experiences are even better when they are shared with someone important to you. So imagine what it's like being in the water with your whole family, right in front of two huge humpbacks surfacing.

The memories we made here together will last a lifetime and be all the more special because they are shared. I have no doubt that we will still be talking about this trip fondly, and in amazement, 10 or 20 years from now. It's hard to describe just how great it was. If you want to learn more about my trip, you can check out my article on the UWPG: Moorea Family Humpback Adventure.


Humpback whale in Moorea Humpback whale in Moorea Moorea underwater photo


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Moorea Humpback Whale Trips Aug/Sep 2024

Moorea Humpback Whale Trips Aug/Sep 2025

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