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Help me see a whale
July 3, 2010 1:09 PM   Subscribe

I want to see a whale in the wild.

Where should I go and at what time of year to give me the best chances of seeing a whale? Should I go on a cruise or is there somewhere with good day boat trips? Is it possible to see blue whales? I am open to international travel, but continental US would be preferable. Mostly, I want to have a nearly 100% likelihood of seeing a whale, though.
posted by stoneweaver to Travel & Transportation (36 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
There are many, many companies that do whale watching tours. These tours generally run when whales are migrating through the area. Figure out where you'd like to go and then search for whale watching tours in that area. You could call the companies to ask when they see the most whales and plan your trip for that particular time period.
posted by JV at 1:23 PM on July 3, 2010


If you hang out on the Oregon coast during migration season (autumn), you can watch them as they travel south from Alaska to the Gulf of California. Seeing them along the ocean as you travel some truly beautiful coastal scenery makes for a truly memorable trip.
posted by pickypicky at 1:24 PM on July 3, 2010


A few years ago we went to Maui in February. We saw so many whales, it almost became routine. Almost. We saw them constantly from the shore, and went whale watching on a boat. The boat trip was so awesome, and we saw so many, many whales, that we repeated it twice. (Do a bit of research -- I don't remember if it was early or late Feb.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:25 PM on July 3, 2010


We went on a several hour whale watching cruise from Monterey in May and saw humpback whales.
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:28 PM on July 3, 2010


Up in Booth Bay Harbor, Maine there's two whale watching boats that run from the harbor. I've seen finback whales almost every time, dolphins once or twice and a basking shark once. Here are some photos I took that are typical of the types of view you'd see. Last time I went I saw a mother and her calf.

If you don't see a whale you get another trip free.
posted by Brainy at 1:29 PM on July 3, 2010


You are pretty unlikely to encounter a blue whale; they live far offshore generally. Even blue whale scientists have a hard time finding them. Your best bets would be grey, humpback or killer whales. On the west coast (I'm in BC) greys and humpbacks are doing better population-wise than killer whales, and are known for their acrobatics so they would be what I'd go for. Vancouver Island has lots of whale watching companies.

If you go on a whale-watching boat, be aware that the boats must not come closer than within 100 meters (in Canada) or yards (in the US) of the whales.
posted by just_ducky at 1:35 PM on July 3, 2010


Two summers ago we went on this puffin and whale watch out of Bar Harbor, Maine. The puffins are fun to watch, and we saw a couple of whales. One breached in front of the boat. Also, Bar Harbor is next to Acadia National Park, which is beautiful.
posted by ants at 1:46 PM on July 3, 2010


I have seen Blue, Minke, Sperm, Fin and Beluga whales (those are the species I remember for sure...there may have been others too), all in the St. Lawrence River. Where the Saguenay river joins the St. Lawrence is the only area outside the Arctic with a native population of beluga. Many other whale species also come by for the rich feeding. The best time of year is late summer, and even into the early fall.

The name of the town right at the junction of the the St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers is Tadoussac, Quebec. There are several whale watching companies in Tadoussac, as well a research station that will do whale tours.

If you go there at the right time of year, you will see whales, probably lots of them, and quite a few different kinds.
posted by MagicEightBall at 1:52 PM on July 3, 2010


I've seen a lot of whales in the Pacific Northwest, during the summer. If you go out on one whale watching trip, you won't definitely see one, but you probably will. And if you stay in the area and go on multiple trips, you can definitely see whales.

It's true that the boats can't go closer than 100 yards/meters of the whales, but the whales sometimes swim closer than that to the boat when the boat is still, which can be very cool.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:53 PM on July 3, 2010


http://www.acsonline.org/whalewatchtrips/bluewhale/index.html

This website has some information on where to see Blue whales off the coast of California.

Also, yes, the Oregon coast is a fantastic place to see whales. Pickypicky is right on about autumn being a great time to be out there.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 1:59 PM on July 3, 2010


Bay of Fundy, Canada. Nice trips from lots of places there.
posted by A189Nut at 2:02 PM on July 3, 2010


Seconding the PNW (Seattle, San Juans, coastal BC and Oregon) as a place it's not too hard to see whales. Where in the US are you?
posted by hattifattener at 2:02 PM on July 3, 2010


There are whale watches out of Boston, Provincetown (on Cape Cod), and many surrounding towns in the summer, and you almost always see whales on one of those 3 hour tours. But friends went to Labrador and Newfoundland and said that whales were Everywhere.
posted by ldthomps at 2:07 PM on July 3, 2010


Some great whale watching just off of Cape Cod. Lots of excursion boats for this.
posted by Rad_Boy at 2:08 PM on July 3, 2010


Nthing Cape Code -- there are a number of whale-watching companies operating from Provincetown and while they won't guarantee spectacular whale sightings -- the hit-rate is pretty high. Our experience was very satisfactory -- right about this time of year, too.
posted by MattD at 2:26 PM on July 3, 2010


Oregon coast in March and October. There are lots of companies that run boats out so you can get a better look. Here's a good place to get started.
posted by Knowyournuts at 2:26 PM on July 3, 2010


You can find a lot of whaling tours off Cape Breton island. We went on a tour off the western coast somewhere and saw dozens of whales, including babies. They said there was a 1% chance of not seeing whales while on any tour around that area, and I'm actually pretty convinced that that's true. Plus, Cape Breton is beautiful. If you want more specific info (which I can dig up), just send me a pm.
posted by superiorchicken at 3:02 PM on July 3, 2010


Late December to March is winter whale watching season off the coast of Virginia.
posted by mediareport at 4:01 PM on July 3, 2010


I'm from Newfoundland and have seen many many humpbacks, and there are some great whale-watching tours...

That being said, this clip is an amazing example of what you might see :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5QnN4Xtd4g
posted by newfers at 4:06 PM on July 3, 2010


I saw fin and beluga on a short cruise on the St. Lawrence Seaway out of Trois-Pistoles, Quebec.
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:13 PM on July 3, 2010


In southeast Alaska right near Gustavus and Glacier Bay National Park (a 45-minute plane ride out of Juneau) in Icy Strait near Point Adolphus in July, you are more or less guaranteed humpbacks (and lots and lots of them). I have seen as many as a dozen at once and watched them for hours from kayaks, and while camping a camping hundred feet from the beach have been kept up by them. It is an incredible place. There are a whole bunch of places that run easy guided kayak trips out there (Alaska Discovery and Spirit Walker Expeditions are the biggest), and lots of cruises and day boat trips that run there as well.

It's one of the most awe-inspiring places in Alaska, and that's saying a lot.
posted by charmedimsure at 4:21 PM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's year-round whale watching in Santa Barbara with Condor Cruises. In the summer it's humpbacks and blue whales with gray whales the rest of the year. If you don't see any whales, you get a free trip to go again.
posted by wsquared at 4:41 PM on July 3, 2010


Newfoundland is pretty solid. I saw a few just sailing a couple hundred metres from shore when I was there.

A better bet, although further away , is apparently Walker Bay in South Africa. A friend of mine used to live there and told me that it was guaranteed whale-viewing, right from the shore.
posted by fso at 5:03 PM on July 3, 2010


Here is a tour out of San Diego that caters to blue whale summer migrations.
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:23 PM on July 3, 2010


A friend of mine is currently visiting St. John's, Newfoundland. Here is her current Facebook status update:

Saw more whales than I could count! Right up close.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:25 PM on July 3, 2010


We went whale watching in Maui with Pacific Whale Foundation and it was simply amazing. On our way out the the snorkeling half of our trip, we went by quite a few breeching whales and the crew was unconcerned. We'll get to the snorkel site and snorkel and we'll be sure to see some on the whale watching half after lunch. Well, after lunch when we saw a few whales, we cut the engines and watched. While we were bobbing around, three adults and a calf came up to the boat and were scraping themselves against the bottom repeatedly. It was incredible!

It was late January when we went.
posted by advicepig at 7:34 PM on July 3, 2010


Here's what you might see if you come to Newfoundland.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:44 PM on July 3, 2010


Seconding Condor cruises from Santa Barbara. There have been blues and humpbacks sighted within a few miles of shore recently and the condor express is smooth and fast.
posted by Iron Rat at 8:54 PM on July 3, 2010


There are SO MANY whale watching tours out of Maine and Massachusetts. Some companies guarantee you'll see a whale, or offer a free trip coupon if you don't see one. It so happens that I'm going on a whale watching tour TODAY! I'm going out of Gloucester, MA. I'll let you know what I see!
posted by missmary6 at 9:21 PM on July 3, 2010


I've seen beluga whales near Churchill, Manitoba. They were definitely closer than 100 metres. I don't know if that means we were breaking the law.
posted by RobotHero at 10:11 PM on July 3, 2010


We're returning to Alert Bay in British Columbia, Canada to see orcas.

Last year we camped on a small island and waited on the beach- this year we're going on a tour. The Stubbs Island tour operators are known for their exceptional environmentalism (for example no chasing the whales in zodiacs):
http://www.stubbs-island.com/Helping_the_Whales/helping_index.html

Here's the whale interpretive centre in the same area:
http://www.killerwhalecentre.org/index_wic.html

A good list of accommodations on the big island (Vancouver Island). There are smaller islands nearby.
http://www.stubbs-island.com/Links/links_accomodation.html

It's a beautiful part of the world.
posted by sambiamb at 10:41 PM on July 3, 2010


Wow! Thank you all so so much! I guess we just need to decide where to go. You have all suggested wonderful things! I'll come back and mark some best answers, because y'all have been amazing.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:02 PM on July 3, 2010


Tofino, Vancouver Island not only whales but bears, hot springs, hiking and a whole lot more.
posted by adamvasco at 3:37 AM on July 4, 2010


Depending on what kind of whales you want to see, I suggest this company based in Vancouer, CA. I went on one of their trips about a year ago, and we got to see approximately 50 gajillion orca, and the "tour guide" was very knowledgeable and friendly.
posted by King Bee at 7:57 AM on July 4, 2010


I believe that Hawaii in January/February has a metric shit-ton of whales. Nthing that it's EXTREMELY common to see them at that time. I think I remember that migrating grey and sperm whales hang out around the islands for a few weeks at that time. When I lived there, I saw them breeching from shore constantly, and if you go out on a boat, you can be among them.

The COOLEST thing, though, is going underwater and listening to hundreds of whale songs. They are loudest at about 30-40 feet, I think (check on that), and you can either free-dive or tank-dive and hang out and listen. It's one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had.
posted by nosila at 8:28 AM on July 4, 2010


I promised to share my whale watching experience --- it was lovely; we saw many humpback and finback whales. We saw several momma humpback whales with their calves. The calves can't dive underwater for long, plus, since they nurse, don't need to dive to feed. Therefore, they splash around the surface being super cute. It's also another way to recognize how giant they are -- you'll be looking at a calf thinking they're enormous, when suddenly the mother will surface and you'll realize she's GARGANTUAN compared to the little giant you'd been watching before.

The boat was crowded, which was the biggest bummer. Also, you never knew what side of the boat a whale would surface on, which necessitated a lot of back-and-forthing. However, my friend and I learned the company offers PRIVATE WHALE WATCHING TOURS in a boat that accommodates six for a reasonable price. This would be a fantastic way to be close to the water and have a personalized experience, while eliminating any problems of a bigger boat/crowd. Definitely something to look into for the best experience.

The naturalist on board described the migratory pattern of humpback whales: they come to MA and ME in late spring and leave in Oct./Nov. The naturalist described how the ocean here is so murky/green because it's rich with nutrients - phytoplankton and such. The tropical waters of a whale's winter are clearer. So, if you want to dive to see the whales, you should head to warmer waters. If you want to see whales at the surface, you can come to colder areas like Massachusetts and Maine. Also, it depends on what type of whale you want to see in person. Different areas have different commonly seen species, so you should pick out which species are on your wishlist.

There was something so electric about seeing whales today. Watching them break the surface of the water felt like witnessing something primordial. Their skin shines in the sun, but their back is knobby and bumpy - they look like mythical creatures. You can see just enough of them to realize you are seeing just a small portion of an enormous animal. Amazing!
posted by missmary6 at 10:04 PM on July 4, 2010


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