The annual Humpback migration to Tonga’s warm-water breeding grounds has started with the spotting of the first whale off ‘Eua Island in Tonga on Monday this week.

Nuku’alofa-based Deep-Blue Diving and whale-swim operator owner Sam Tatafu said it was always a thrill to see the first whale of the season, and to see one this early in the season was hopefully an indicator of plenty of whales around Tonga’s main island groups throughout 2013. Sam said the resident population of humpbacks that make the journey from Antarctica to Tonga each year was estimated at over 2,000 and the whales spread throughout Tonga’s island groups to mate and give birth from June to October.

Sam said “The humpbacks come to Tongatapu, ‘Eua, Ha’apai and Vava’u so visitors here in the winter season can whale watch or whale swim throughout the islands of Tonga”, he said.

New regulations to manage the whale watch and whale swim industry have been introduced in Tonga this year and a new whale guide training programme is also now underway in advance of the season, said Minister of Commerce, Tourism and Labour Hon Dr. Viliami Latu. “The whale watch and whale swim industry is an important part of our visitor industry, and we are ensuring we manage it well in Tonga, while providing visitors with a safe, high quality experience”, he said.

Dr. Latu also said that the announcement this week of additional seat capacity on domestic airline Real Tonga’s services to the Outer Islands will also ensure visitors have plenty of choice of travel dates to see Tonga’s whales. “Earlier this week, Real Tonga announced they are chartering a 50-seater Convair 580 aircraft to provide additional peak-season internal air capacity to Ha’apai and Vava’u, making getting to see whales in Tonga an easily accessible experience”, he said.