Now THE highlight of the year, the whale season is at the heart of all the crazes. From July to November, all excursionists offer a whale outing. They come to breed and give birth in the warm waters of Polynesia, to the delight of observers. Since 2002, Polynesia has even become one of the largest cetacean protection sanctuaries. During my stay, not a day without being asked: "So did you see the whales?". And the amazement at my answer: "What? but you're crazy it's a crazy thing you absolutely have to do it i[…]t was the happiest moment of my life[…] it was extraordinary "[…] etc etc. etc. As you have understood, everyone seems to agree with this practice, which is nevertheless highly regulated, proof that too many excesses are to be regretted.
The human-cetacean relationship
Whale watching is a very supervised activity. Only qualified professionals have the opportunity to approach mammals and supervise releases with them. Three main points are restricted: harassment of animals, launch conditions and approach distance. Unfortunately, despite their promises, few providers really comply with the rules of the Environment Code. More and more offers such as "meeting with whales insured or reimbursed" which push providers to the extreme. They are willing to do anything for guests to see the whales, swim with them, be as close as possible etc without worrying about the welfare of the animal. Of course, it's a generality, there are also professionals who try to be careful but overall, the lure of gain and the adrenaline of the show often prevail. I am not here to point the finger at anyone, let the one who has never wronged throw the first stone at me! On the other hand, I hope to highlight the conditions of this practice and allow you to organize your trip with all the useful information in your pocket!
Whales are literally hunted by boats. Dozens of providers offer an excursion every day (see 2 per day for some). They all know each other and as soon as one of them meets a whale, he warns the others by radio and everyone comes back! Thus, a whale and its calf find themselves surrounded by about fifty divers observing them, more or less respectfully. Sometimes the whale is even sleeping towards the bottom and the divers take the opportunity to approach the calf and play with it which has the consequence of changing its behavior and getting used to the man which is really bad for him.
It is the captain who decides whether you can get into the water or not. He observes the security conditions to make his decision. It gives the safety instructions and distances that are usually simply ignored by divers in search of THE Instagram photo that will make them the star of a day. By the way it is also valid for turtles, rays etc. We often forget that diving with whales is not without risks! A fin shot and ciao the diver! We also have the danger of the open sea: whales are very often followed by sharks and as I write this article, a woman has just been attacked by a patara shark during a whale excurion and her vital prognostic is engaged.
The distance between you and the whale must be at least 100m. Unfortunately in almost every photo I saw of people I met during my trip, this distance was never respected. "Yes, but it was the whale that came to us." Apologies are good for overplaying the rules. And it's the fair to anything: we surround the whale, we follow it so much that it accelerates, changes direction etc. It's a big stress for these animals. Because of this kind of behaviour, new observation rules have been decided: more observation in the lagoon, in the passes and less than a km from the passes. This makes providers and tourists cringe, but it is necessary to protect them.
Swimming with whales: should we say Never?
What do I think about this? Swimming with whales must certainly be a unique and incredible moment. On the other hand, I am not convinced that for her too it was "the happiest moment of her life". But I'm not saying "fontaine I would never drink your water!".
the chance encounter
I sincerely believe that we can meet whales without going through this system of harassment of mammals. Many divers have the chance to meet a whale during a sea trip. I hope that one day this will happen to me and that I can enjoy this moment in the respect and ethics that I believe in.
If all these compretments exist; it's often because of lack of information or because we've seen someone else do it so we think it's ok. Bloggers have this responsibility for me to raise awareness about good practices and stop promoting these unhealthy approaches with animals. Because forced if you do a post with a whale by being only a few meters away, describing the magic of the moment, then inevitably everyone will want to do the same without realizing the bottom of the problem. Let's be ethical! A great article by Charlotte on the subject: Charlieswanderings
Why do I feel the need to write this article? Because I am convinced that information can make a difference. Because I think the people who do this don't realize the impact of their actions. Because I too have made and would probably still make mistakes, but it is by learning from them that we improve and can help others to do the same. And as consumers, it's up to us to tell day-trippers that we don't want to hunt whales and that we want to take a more ethical attitude. Because if there are no more customers for non-respectful dives then there will be no more providers to offer them!