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Whales Galore!
Date: July - September 2003
Destination: Ha'apai Group, Tonga

"Another stellar experience with the whales and on NAI'A. Fabulous crew, great stories. Our 3rd trip and they just keep getting better. Days of leisure, hours of ecstasy!"
Bob & Doris Schaffer, Fallbrook, CA

"I had high expectations and the trip exceeded each and every one. I hoped to meet a few fascinating people and ended up on a cruise with a whole menagerie of passionate, driven and joyful folks. I look forward to my next adventure with NAI'A and will not be disappointed, I'm sure! Thank you for having the vision, integrity and perseverance to make this possible."
Tracy Grogan, Berkeley, CA

NAI'A's 2003 humpback whale season in Tonga was arguably the best so far. We just returned home to Fiji after three great expeditions in Tonga's remote Ha'apai group and we've barely begun the long job of sorting through all our video footage and still photos.

We'd like to think we had so many outstanding encounters this year because the whales are getting to know us after eight years together. Or because there are so many of them. Or maybe it is because we've improved at choosing curious whales. There is some truth to all of these, but this year was also marked by particularly calm weather -- which goes a long way toward making a good encounter great.

Some whales are certainly attracted to NAI'A. This year we had numerous encounters with whales who swam right up to the ship as soon as she stopped near them. When the whales eventually moved out of sight, we snorkelers would congregate back near the ship until they came sweeping back to check us out again.

There are more humpbacks in Tonga now than since the Soviets illegally targeted this tribe on their migration route past New Zealand in the early 1960s. The consortium of researchers working with whales in the South Pacific (to whom we send our fluke ID photos) has a rough estimate of about 700 humpbacks in Tonga on any given year. If that number is true, and if humpbacks reproduce at about 7% annually, then only between five and twelve reproductive females survived the Soviet slaughter.

This year was a good year for whales politically, too, with progress at the IWC and new protection for whales in Fiji's Exclusive Economic Zone following similar decrees last year by French Polynesia, Niue, PNG, and Samoa. Whales have been protected in Australian and New Zealand waters for more than twenty years, but it was the King of Tonga who started it all with a royal decree banning whaling in Tongan waters in 1979.

Whales are not saved, however, with Japan, Norway, and now Iceland forming a marine mammal axis of evil, if you like. But as the whale watching industry grows, the whale hunters are losing ground to governments that recognize the value of whales alive. Every year after our passengers go home having looked a whale right in the eye, we file a document with the Tongan government highlighting the amount of money spent IN Tonga by NAI'A and our passengers. Thanks to you, every year live whales are looking more and more valuable than dead ones.