Humpback whales bringing in the visitors in Niue
Visiting humpback whales bring a tourist bonanza to Niue.
Niue's tiny tourism industry always gets a boost in the middle of the winter high season with the arrival of humpback whales, migrating from Antarctica to the Pacific breeding grounds.
There are three companies helping get tourists close to the whales that are often quite near the shore and by all accounts there are a large number of whales passing through this year.
One is Buccaneer Tours Niue Dive and one of the owners, Shannon Hunter told Don Wiseman about the whales attraction.
SHANNON HUNTER: We've got our specific whale boat. We take people out to visit the whales basically, or as I say to the customers: the whales are our customers so we're giving them the opportunity to see you guys.
DON WISEMAN: And the whales embrace that concept, do they?
SH: Let's say that maybe sixty percent of the time, they play the game. The other forty percent, they might put on an aerial show or something like that and don't actually give us the opportunity to get into the water. This season so far we have had very, very successful in-water opportunities and some of the best that I've seen in my time here in Niue.
DW: So when you talk about in-water, you mean people are swimming with the whales?
SH: That's correct. We take them in nice and slowly. We have to watch to see what the mood of the whale is for that day and we assess if it's appropriate or not to put the snorkellers in the water with them. And if it is, we swim away from the boat. We have to keep the boat a fair distance away from the whale but still within a distance that - if the swimmer gets into trouble - we can be there nice and quick. And we swim over to the whale and hope that it hangs around and shares the water with us.
DW: No one's ever been flicked by a fin?
SH: Definitely not. No, the whales are here because it's very deep water, so close to shore. And we don't have very long boat trips. If the whale doesn't want us to be there, it just dives down deep and it'll swim away.
DW: Is that the reason, just that the water's really deep and that's what really attracts them?
SH: Niue is somewhat of a stage post, I guess you could call it, for them on their migration so most of the time they stop over here for a week or two to rest up before moving off to the Tonga and Samoa breeding grounds, you could say. If a female does have her calf here, then she will hang around for the majority of the season.
DW: So they're just there for a couple of weeks?
SH: But we get them in dribs and drabs so they do come through fairly consistently throughout the year and then we get them on their return trip back down to Antarctica as well so through from mid-June until round about mid-September/October, it's very consistent with the whales.
DW: There's a fledgling tourism industry in Niue, how important are these whales arriving at what is I suppose the best time from a tourist's point of view for you?
SH: From a tourist's point of view, very important. This time of year, actually, I can only speak for our business Buccaneer Tours Niue Dive, but it accounts for maybe seventy percent of the entire year's takings, so as far as we're concerned it's extremely important that the whales come consistently each year and that the visitors come to see them.
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