Effects of whale-based tourism in Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga: Behavioural responses of humpback whales to vessel and swimming tourism activities

Date 2019
Temporal extent 2016-07 -2017-10
Author(s) Fiori LorenzoORCID1
Affiliation(s) 1 : Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
DOI 10.17882/61487
Publisher SEANOE
Keyword(s) Humpback whales, Tonga, Tourism, Swim-with-whales, Impacts

Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga, is a well-established whale-watching destination in the South Pacific. Between July and October, the waters around the archipelago represent one of the most important breeding grounds for Oceania humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). The Tongan government allows tourist swimming activities with whales and tour operators strongly promote the practice of swimming-with-whales, focusing primarily on mother-calf pairs. However, there is increasing evidence, derived from empirical research on swim-with-cetacean tourism, that this kind of interaction affects cetacean behaviour and can lead to negative effects on the cetaceans involved. This study represents the first assessment of humpback whales’ behavioural responses to vessel and swimmer approaches in Vava’u. Fifty-six surveys took place during the 2016 and 2017 whale breeding seasons aboard dedicated research and tour vessels. Whale dive time, number of reorientation events, and respiration rates were documented in both the absence and presence of boats and swimmers. Vessel approach type, swimmer placement, and whale avoidance responses were also recorded. Results indicate that the average diving time and the proportion of time spent diving in the presence of swimming activities increased significantly for mother-calf pairs (F2,36 = 18.183, P < 0.001; F2,36 = 5.462, P = 0.009, respectively). Moreover, avoidance responses of whales towards tour vessels were observed for one third of vessel approaches (33.5%) and the avoidance rate was significantly affected by the boat approach type (95% CI: 20.7 – 69.2%, z = 3.50, P < 0.001). Finally, low levels of compliance to the existing Tongan swim-with-whales regulations were documented, in particular the stipulated whale resting time between interactions with tour operator vessels and swimmers was often not respected (38.4%). Vava’u is an important calving ground for the Oceania humpback whale population and these findings should be carefully considered by stakeholders in Tonga and at other locations where swim-with-whales opportunities are being undertaken. Effective strategies to reduce the risk of detrimental effects on the whales targeted by swimming activities, especially mother-calf pairs, are needed.

Licence CC-BY
Acknowledgements The authors thank the Tongan Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Fisheries for their logistic support and project endorsement. Special thanks to Miss Anaseini ‘Otumuli of the Tongan Ministry of Tourism for her timely and precious assistance in obtaining the necessary authorizations for this study and to Dr Semisi Taumoepeau for his help in the permit application process. Special thanks are owed to Barbara Lësser, Courtney Burk and Craig Koning. Our thanks are also extended to Dr. Martin Bader, Dr. Daniel Breen and Graham Hinchliffe for assistance with data analysis and experimental design. Finally, the authors thank the School of Science, Auckland University of Technology for providing the field equipment and logistics.
File Size Format Processing Access
65287.xlsx 74 KB XLS, XLSX Quality controlled data Open access
65309.xlsx 57 KB XLS, XLSX Processed data Open access
65311.xlsx 18 KB XLS, XLSX Processed data Open access
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How to cite 

Fiori Lorenzo (2019). Effects of whale-based tourism in Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga: Behavioural responses of humpback whales to vessel and swimming tourism activities. SEANOE. https://doi.org/10.17882/61487

In addition to properly cite this dataset, it would be appreciated that the following work(s) be cited too, when using this dataset in a publication :

Fiori Lorenzo, Martinez Emmanuelle, Orams Mark B., Bollard Barbara, Munderloh Ulrike Gertrud (2019). Effects of whale-based tourism in Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga: Behavioural responses of humpback whales to vessel and swimming tourism activities. PLOS ONE, 14(7), e0219364-. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0219364