How to Spot a Whale

The largest creature in the sea shouldn’t be hard to miss, but they do have a lot of room to hide beneath the waves. Going whale spotting is a fantastic day out for people of all ages. Seeing these massive creatures out in the ocean is unforgettable. It doesn’t matter how many whale watching videos you have seen, experiencing these massive creatures out in the open sea is excitement on a whole different scale.

What happens when you go whale watching? No matter where in the world you go, you will get on a boat that will seem much smaller once you get close to actual whales. The whales are not on the tour company’s payroll. They make their own schedules, so nothing is guaranteed. But experienced guides know when and where their odds are best. You might spot a bit of fin or tail in the distance first. Then, as your boat gets closer, you might be surprised when a whale crashes through the surface of the water closer than you expect.

The type of whale you see will depend on where you go whale watching, although humpback whales are seen in many places around the world. Off the coast of California, you can see humpback and blue whales. Grey whales migrate along the Pacific coast from Baja, Mexico to Alaska, USA. If you go whale watching in Oregon or Washington state, they are the ones you are most likely to see. On the Atlantic coast, you can see humpbacks, finbacks, pilots and minkes. Humpbacks are also common off the coast of Ireland and the mainland UK. Last summer, a group of about 30 minke whales was spotted off the coast of Scotland.  

Responsible Whale Watching Tips

Whale watching is a fantastic experience for people, but what about the whales? These majestic creatures do notice their admirers, and our presence influences their behaviour. While viewing sea creatures in the wild is vastly better for them than most commercial habitats, it can still be detrimental to them. It’s on us to make sure our whale spotting is not harming them.

It’s natural to want to get as close as possible to these astonishing beasts. But with an estimated 13 million people around the world trying to get up close and personal with the whales every year, it can overwhelm them. Whales have left some areas because of intrusive whale watching, and no whale lover wants to push them from their familiar home territory. Our visits have changed their behaviour and impacted their mating and reproduction. Chose a tour that will keep a respectful distance and view the whales through binoculars instead. Avoid tours with pre-recorded commentary because you want to be sure a knowledgeable whale lover is in charge, not someone keen to make a buck.  Keeping our visits shorter also reduces the stress on whales. Think of whale spotting as a once in a lifetime experience, not something to do annually.

Whale watching does have the potential to do great harm or tremendous good, and our choices determine which it will be. Look for tours that offer real education about whales, their habitat and how we can help the ocean recover from the damage humans have done. Guides can also help researchers by reporting what they see on tours. Whale tours can also support local economies, including in countries without an abundance of job opportunities. If you are going whale spotting, choose your tour carefully to ensure you are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

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