People on this board are smart and as I review this thread I think you all can read between the lines. As someone that has always been self employed I know how hard it is to run a business. I only want the best for all who take on this challenge. In addition when dealing with WhaleSwim I made it very clear we were very avid amateur photographers, with fairly large rigs and asked where they comfortable with that? They said yes, they dealt with photographers all the time. We have been to Tonga before, going out with Tony Wu. We had a great time and of course Tony "gets" photogs. Tony can be a little hard to get a hold of but stick with it. You are more on your own on getting to Tonga. Once their everything went great and Tony is super knowledgeable about the whales and working with them. He was booked up so we went with WhaleSwim this round.
WhaleSwim is a well organized company. Their communication while planning the trip was excellent and we found them very helpful. The on the water organization, boats and crew are very good, the crew was fantastic. In addition we really enjoyed the places they arranged for us to stay at, especially Mandala Beach Resort (SP?). I think WhaleSwim is great for those who want to get in the water with whales and not stress about arranging things for themselves. Perfect for those who may not be the strongest of swimmers or even people with kids.
Tonga has very strict rules on how to interact with the whales, which is GOOD! To their credit WhaleSwim stick to these rules, and in my imho maybe goes a step beyond. This is hard to argue against. For example one rule is no free diving to the whales. On one rotation in the water WhaleSwim actually "Pulled" me out of the water because I left the surface while trying to avoid getting kicked in the face by some of my fellow "dive buddies". In general all I wanted to do was drop down 3-4 feet to get out of the chop but that was not allowed.
What WhaleSwim wants you to do is get to a spot and link arms so you stay in a tight group. This is very difficult if you have a camera and often dealing with surface chop and swells. Not very safe for the person next to you when you have a large metal box in your hand. When I brought this up and said I would stay close but not link arms there was a lot of consternation but finally agreed to. I was the "trouble child" on this trip. Anytime I got more than 2meters from the group it was brought to my attention when we got on the boat. Without a doubt I lost shots when the group could not keep up with a whale.
On the boat there was just one rinse bucket for masks, snorkels and cameras. They wanted us to let our rigs float in that bucket, in 2-4 foot seas. When I said I would prefer to just store them under our seat I was told it would be a safety problem. Eventually we were provided a tote to store them in. The pro shooter for Travel and Leisure followed the rules and his dome was bashed up and his housing flooded, in the rinse bucket, on day 3. I do believe they could easily improve this aspect of their operation and get in line with what almost every other live-aboard does. Last pet peeve for all dive operations is guides with cameras, drives me crazy. Here the guides, including the owner, were packing GoPros, point and shoots. Of course they were leading the group, they don't want you to stray away, so I have a ton of shots of their outstretched arms, camera in hand.
Sorry for the long post. WhaleSwim is an excellent choice for 90% of those out there. But maybe not for the most avid, want to bend the rules a little, photographer types.
- trimix125 likes this