Interesting Species Found in Tonga
On land and in the ocean, Tonga harbours an array of interesting wildlife. Whether you’re a birder wanting to see some unusual South Pacific birds or a diver who wants to finally get the chance to swim with humpback whales, there’s something to entice all kinds of nature-lovers. Tonga doesn’t have a huge array of endemic species, as many birds and marine life can be found across the South Pacific, but it is a good go-to if you want to see a vast range of impressive species all in one place. We go over some of those species in this list of animals and birds found in Tonga.
For more wildlife talk, take a look at A Traveller’s Guide to Wildlife in Tonga.
1. Humpback Whales
A species that Tonga is arguably most famous for is its humpback whales, present in Tonga’s waters between June and October. Humpback whales take an amazing 4,800km (3,000-mile) journey from Antarctic waters to Tonga’s tropical waters to mate and calve each year. Tonga is one of the very few countries in the world where it is legal to swim with these gentle giants. Find out more in The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga.
2. Flying Fox
The insular flying fox, also known as the Pacific flying fox or Peka, is a bat species found across the South Pacific Islands including Tonga. Interestingly, flying foxes in Tonga are the official property of the King, so no one but royalty can legally hunt or harm them in any way. While flying foxes can be found in forest areas around Tonga, they are prevalent in the village of Kolovai on the eastern side of Tongatapu.
3. Red Shining Parrot
The red shining parrot, also known as a musk parrot or koki, has become a symbol of the island of ‘Eua. The parrot was introduced to the island in prehistoric times, which is a species endemic to Fiji. They are mostly found in moist lowland tropical forests – something to look out for in the ‘Eua National Park.
4. Tongan Whistler
An endemic species in Tonga, the Tongan whistler is found in the Vava’u group, as well as the island of Late. Classified as “near threatened” due to habitat loss, there are conservation programs to distribute the Tongan whistler to uninhabited islands around Tonga. They can be observed with some bird-watching resort tours in Vava’u.
5. Golden Orb Web Spider
A relatively common sight in Tonga, the golden orb web spider, golden silk orb spider or nephila tetragnathoides is known for their impressively woven webs and their size. They are known to reach 4.8-5.1cm (1.5–2″). They are a common sight across the islands of Tonga, typically spinning webs between trees.
6. White-tailed Tropicbird
Tonga has a wide array of seabirds, one of the most beautiful being the white-tailed tropicbird. They are found on the coast of many places in Tonga, but a good go-to for seabirds, in general, is the southern coast of ‘Eua where it’s also possible to spot grey noddies, brown noddies, brown boobies, white terns and more.
7. Pacific Black Duck
Want to see a duck in Tonga? The Pacific black duck is your likely sighting, found in wetland areas around Tonga. A good place to spot these dabbling ducks is in the Sopu Mudflats of Tongatapu, where it’s also possible to spot reef egrets, crested and black-naped terns, white-faced herons and more.
8. White-collared Kingfisher
This medium-sized kingfisher is also found in the islands of Tonga. The white-collared kingfisher is found in coastal areas, particularly around wetlands and coastal swamps where they eat small crabs, insects, worms, small fish and more.
Tonga is home to green sea turtles and hawksbill sea turtles. There are controversial issues over sea turtles in Tonga, where it is a Tongan tradition to eat green sea turtles as part of religious ceremonies. However, there are now conservation programs in place to help protect sea turtles in Tonga, as both species are on the endangered list. Nevertheless, divers and snorkellers in Tonga are sometimes lucky enough to spot them in the water.
Finally, an introduced species and probably the most-seen species in Tonga are pigs! While pigs can be seen along just about every roadside on Vava’u’s main island, there is even a tourist attraction called the “Fishing Pigs” in Tongatapu where pigs are seen foraging for fish in the mudflats at low tide. They are also a prized aspect of Tongan feasts, sitting centre stage of any umu or spitroast dinner.