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Swim with whales on a Tahiti luxury yacht charter

By Nina Done   Last Updated: 22 March 2023

For a true once-in-a-lifetime experience, don’t miss the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with humpback whales on a luxury yacht vacation in Tahiti. One of the few remaining places in the world where swimming with these majestic creatures in the wild is possible, you and your guests can enjoy magical encounters with these graceful giants off the back of your superyacht.

Marking one of the world’s greatest migrations, humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) travel some 6,000 km from Antarctica to the food-rich waters of French Polynesia every summer to reproduce and give birth, providing visitors to the region with an awe-inspiring spectacle as the whales congregate in the warm tranquil lagoons and nearby ocean to mate. 

When is the best time to see the whales?

The whale season in French Polynesia starts from July and runs until the end of November, with peak season concentrated over the three months between August through October. From spy hopping and fluke slapping to full breaching above the water, witnessing the whales in their natural environment in this tropical paradise is a truly magical and surreal experience, and certainly not one to be missed.

Humpback whales in Tahiti
A snorkeler with a humpback whale in French Polynesia

Boasting one of the richest aquatic regions in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, the waters around French Polynesia have been classified as a Marine Mammal Sanctuary since 2002. Covering over 4 million square kilometers, you and your charter guests will also get the opportunity to spot other cetaceans and marine fauna, including pilot whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks and rays.

A woman stands on a paddle board observing a manta ray in the shallow water of Tahiti
A school of tropical fish swimming in TahitiA pod of dolphins in French Polynesia

The Society islands of Tahiti and Mo’orea are where the humpback whales gather each year, close to the outer reefs where the females will give birth to live young, and remain here to nurse until the calf gains the strength and weight needed for the long journey back to Antarctica. 

Respect is key

Due to the islands' small size, spotting humpback whales is fairly easy, especially if they are breaching. Local boat tours are mindful about keeping their distance from the whales, and yachts should adopt the same approach. Stopping the boat at least 100 meters away from any pod or individual is generally the universal benchmark. 

Encounters with the whales are considered privileged as they are a protected species and must be treated with the utmost respect at all times.

A female humpback whale with her calf in Tahiti, French Polynesia
Snorkeler with a humpback whale in French Polynesia

It is common practice to host a guide on board for the duration of your Tahiti yacht charter. With their extensive knowledge and experience, they will be able to advise the Captain on the best places to seek out the whales, and will monitor conditions to ensure the creatures can be approached safely. From here, the captain can set about anchoring and arranging a tender launch, if necessary. 

It should be noted that swimming with snorkels and masks in the open ocean for any length of time can be physically demanding and requires good swimming skills and a fair bit of energy, especially as the whales can move further out. Therefore, we do not recommend this activity for children younger than 8 years old. The ocean can also be quite choppy outside of the protected lagoons so be mindful of safety and issues with seasickness. 

Swimming with humpback whales

Once in the water it is customary to passively observe the whales from a distance, where, if you're lucky, they may approach you for a closer look. From mid-August, you may also get the opportunity to see the newborn calves, who are naturally curious and playful. 

Snorkeler with a humpback whales in French Polynesia
Snorkelers with a pod of humpback whales in French Polynesia

These “babies” are 10-15 feet long and already weigh nearly a ton. They will put on 100kgs daily during their first few months, enjoying the warm protected waters away from their natural predators, the orcas, before returning to the icy waters of the Antarctic.

Adult humpback whales can weigh more than 40 tons and grow up to 60 feet long, and often swim up from the depths at great speeds to breach out of the water, so great care should be taken at all times when in the water with them. Breaching sessions can sometimes last up to two hours, and is one of the most impressive spectacles, which can easily be witnessed from the comfort of your yacht. 

French Polynesian customs

As well as the islands’ vibrant coral ecosystems, guests on a yacht charter around these islands can also immerse themselves in the unique Polynesian culture and enjoy the paradisiacal tropical landscapes on offer.

A local paddles a kayak filled with beautiful arranged fruit baskets in Tahiti
Dancers perform their traditional ceremonial welcome in Tahiti, French PolynesiaFrench Polynesia, Marquesas, Nuku Hiva island, Tiki statue on ritual places

It is customary for the Captain and guide to go ashore at each island you visit to greet the Chief and bring a few small gifts/offerings to their peoples. Once you have the blessing and permission of the Chief you and your guests will likely be treated to a ceremonial welcoming dance.

After this, you and your guests will be taken to experience an activity, which is unique to each island; this could be a village tour, cave viewing or even a lush inland trek to a beautiful cascading waterfall or crystal clear lagoon.

Sometimes the villagers come to the yacht and serenade the guests, and you may even find yourself in a large kayak with several locals enjoying a race around the island.

Need more information?

A whales fluke pokes out the water in the French Polynesia waters at sunset

To find out more about chartering in the region, check out our French Polynesia yacht charter guide. For some inspiration, browse our selection of itineraries handpicked by experts with in-depth knowledge of the region.

You should note there is limited availability for crewed yachts around this remote region. If you are interested in venturing to French Polynesia, please speak with your preferred yacht charter broker well in advance of your trip. They will be able to advise you of any charter yachts venturing to the region around your desired dates.

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