Whale watching in Reunion Island: how to dive with humpbacks?

When and where to spot humpback whale in Reunion Island?

When it comes to humpback whales, I’m pretty sure you’ve already heard of Reunion Island. Well that’s not a surprise because right now it’s probably one of the best place in the world to see and swim with those gentle giants!

Reunion Island is a small volcanic island as well as a French region located in the Indian Ocean.

Every year, humpback whales migrate to Reunion Island during the austral winter. They come here to breed and give birth in warmer waters. Therefore, it is possible to spot many of them from July until October every year.

Most of the encounters with humpback whales happen on the West and South-West coasts, which are the biggest seasides of Reunion Island. Climate conditions are usually excellent, with the temperature of the ocean going from 23 to 25°C during that season, and visibility from 10 to 40 meters.

The perfect time for whale encounters is often considered to be the end of the season (from September to October) when whale calves have actually grown and are almost ready to go back to Antarctica.

The guidelines that everyone have to respect while approaching and interacting with humpback whales in Reunion Island

The guidelines that everyone have to respect while approaching and interacting with humpback whales in Reunion Island

What are the rules for whale watching in Reunion Island?

At the time of writing this article, there is no law that regulates diving with cetaceans in Reunion Island, meaning that it does not require to go with a tour operator, you can also rent a boat and go by yourself… but that might be subject to change in 2019. Also I don’t advice you to do this unless someone on the boat has a lot of experience with whales interactions to guide every other participants.

Globice is an organisation that introduced a few years ago a set of rules and guidelines to help divers approach humpback whales.

The crucial takeaways from these guidelines are:

  • Keep a reasonable distance, slow down 300 meters before reaching them, then shut down the engine at 100 meters

  • Limit the numbers of boats in the area, there shouldn’t be more than 5 boats around a whale

  • Limit the number of divers surrounding the whales, no more than 10 at the same time

  • Do not spend more than 15 minutes observing the whales underwater

How to spot a humpback whale?

Humpback whales are cetaceans, meaning that they need to go back to the surface to breathe. Furthermore, it is possible to spot their tails from afar, especially when they are using those to signal other whales. You can also spot their backs when they are right below the surface.

Humpback whales are notorious for being able to jump off the water, and truly live up to their reputation when you are able to witness such a show. Sometimes, whales will be teaching their calves how to perform such moves, leading to a chain of jumps that can last several minutes!

Is it dangerous to swim with humpback whales?

These colossal creatures typically weigh 30 to 40 tons and are about 15 meters tall when they are adults. By nature, these mammals are far from aggressive. However, there can always be a risk and divers should always be extremely careful and avoid any close contact. It is crucial to refer to the guidelines and safety rules that we mentioned before to stay safe, whether you’re diving or on a boat.

Interactions should not be forced. Do not chase a whale that is swimming away! Instead, be extremely aware of its behaviour, gently offer it to interact with you and observe its reaction. They can be extremely curious and the best encounters usually happen this way. Always keep an eye on the mother when a whale calf approaches a group of divers. The younger the calf, the more protective the mother will be!