What is Involved in a Whale Watching Trip?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2019
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There are two basic types of whale watching trips, depending on how hardy the stomachs of the participants are. Most take the form of ocean-going trips, meaning that the whale watchers board a boat and go out to sea to look for whales. In other instances, a whale watching group might stick to the shore, choosing to walk or hike along the coastline while looking for whales. In both cases, there is no guarantee that whales will be seen, but there are plenty of other things to look at, and if a whale is sighted, it can be an exhilarating experience.

On a ground-based trip, the whale watching expedition is often combined with a wildflower or bird identification walk. The walkers tend to be older, and the trip proceeds at a leisurely pace along the coastline of an area known to harbor whales. Everyone carries binoculars so that they can look out to the ocean, and birders often carry along a life list of birds they have seen, just in case. A picnic lunch might be packed, and the goal is usually to enjoy nature and hopefully catch sight of a few whales, usually identifiable by the plumes of water they force out of their blowholes periodically. More rarely, whale watches can see whales fluke, or show their tales.


On an ocean-going whale watching trip, the guests typically show up at a dock early in the morning, so that they have the whole day ahead of them. If there is inclement weather, the trip will be canceled, but otherwise, everyone climbs aboard and sets out for a day on the water. By boating, whale watchers increase their chance of actually seeing whales, because the massive ocean going mammals sometimes swim at quite a distance from shore. They can also see whales up close, and are more likely to see fluking behavior. The boaters will stay out for the day, or several days, on a whale watching cruise.

If you intend to go out on the ocean for a whale watching trip, a few things can make the trip easier. Remember to pack layers of clothing, as the weather can vary from cold and rough to mild and breezy. Bring lots of water to stay hydrated, as well as sunscreen to protect the skin. Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes and a hat, and bring a pair of binoculars so that you can see more clearly. If you suffer from sea sickness, you may want to purchase medication to help you get through the trip, or use a home remedy like ginger or carbonated beverages.

Many parts of the world offer whale watching trips which can last for varied amounts of time. Whales travel up and down the coast as part of their yearly migration, and some people like to travel south to see the whales with their young, while others enjoy meeting up with the whales midway through their journey, or cruising in the northern oceans to visit whales over the summer. Many cruise ship companies hold whale watching cruises, and in areas where whales are seasonally sighted, charter companies hold day trips to see the whales go by.



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Post 3

@Iluviaporos - It depends on what country you are in. I went whale watching in Sydney and I'm pretty sure all of those things were rigidly addressed by local laws. They also had a pretty good deal where, if you didn't see a whale on the first trip, you got a second one free. If you are going dolphin or whale watching, that's a clause I'd insist on, because they are wild creatures and there's just no way of predicting whether they will be there.

Post 2

@Fa5t3r - I would be cautious about that. I suspect that it's illegal to swim with whales in most places for a reason, whether that is to keep the swimmers safe, or the whales themselves.

It's important to keep the whales' safety in mind even when going on whale watching tours. There are some companies that can be unethical in how they go about their business. They might follow whales and make them anxious, or "poach" whales from other companies when there are limits to how many boats can approach them. And they might be using a boat that pollutes the water, either with fumes or with noise, which isn't great for the whales either.

Post 1

The best whale watching trip I've ever taken wasn't strictly a whale watching trip. There are only a couple of places in the world where this is possible, but in Tonga you are actually allowed to swim with the humpback whales.

You don't really get close to them in the same way you do with dolphins. We swam with a mother and baby who were at least half a football field length away.

But seeing a whale from underwater was one of the most wonderful moments of my entire life. It's something I would recommend to anyone who is physically able to do it.

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