Few creatures inspire us as much as whales do. The mystery of whales entices
us, their grace amazes us and their intelligence astounds us. Some people
like whales so much, they make a hobby out of watching them!
Whale watching simply involves observing whales in their natural habitats.
You can do this from a boat or, if you're lucky, from shore.
Whale watching as a commercial activity began in North America in 1955
along the southern California coast. Today, whale watching is a popular activity
in over 40 countries around the world. People do it everywhere from Ireland
to Hawaii to the Dominican Republic.
A commercial whale watching trip is the most common way to see whales.
For a fee, an experienced guide will take a group of people out in a boat
to a spot where whales are commonly seen.
While commercial whale hunting still goes on in some countries, most whales
today are only hunted with cameras. A good photo is a must for any whale watching
"You can't describe to people the feeling you get when something the size
of a railway car surfaces 20 feet from the boat you're in. I had to take pictures
so people would believe me," says Rolanda Morrow, who often whale watches.
Many people see the growing popularity of whale watching as an important
part of conserving whales. While they don't want to see boats out chasing
and disturbing whales all the time, they feel the more we promote the observation
of whales, the less likely we'll be willing to kill them.
"If we can create an environment where it's more profitable to watch the
whales than it is to simply kill them, business will follow," says Rauno Lauhakangas
of Helsinki, Finland. He hopes to promote whale watching through the Internet
with his Whale Watching Web.
If statistics tell us anything, it's that people like Lauhakangas are succeeding
in promoting whale watching. It earns over $450 million per year worldwide.
There are over four million participants.
In addition to being a good way to promote conservation, whale watching
also provides people with a breathtaking glimpse of an animal they would usually
only see in books or on television.
"I remember seeing a newborn calf being pushed to the surface by its mother
-- unbelievable," says Jim Rang, a whale watcher from Phoenix, Arizona. Rang
travels to Mexico to see gray whales.
|A humpback whale is so named because its dorsal fin forms a hump
on its back. These whales are one of the species most commonly watched by
|Courtesy of: Patricia L. Russell|
Some whale watchers like Rang are lucky enough to have friends in Mexico
who own fishing boats. For most people, a commercial whale watching company
is the best way to go.
Expect to spend $100 to $125 for a full-day guided trip and $50 for a half-day
Any professional operator will tell you whale sightings aren't guaranteed,
no matter what you pay.
"Whales are in their natural habitat and we can't control them. We're just
observers," says Rang.
The best thing about whale watching is that it's a hobby almost anyone
can enjoy. As long as you can get into a boat, you can try it. Many whale
watching companies have special features on their boats to accommodate people
Operators do suggest that people who are prone to sea sickness or have
a heart condition check with a doctor before taking a trip.
Whales don't always arrive on schedule, so you may not be treated to a
great show every time you go out. Also, depending on where you are, you may
need warm, waterproof clothing.
"It hasn't happened often, but there are times where you don't see as many
whales as you'd hoped, and sometimes you might not see any at all," says Morrow.
Just getting out and being in the fresh air with the chance of seeing a whale
is enough for her.
As ecotourism continues to grow, whale watching will begin to play a bigger
part in the tourist industry. Already, commercial boats which used to be used
for killing whales are now being used for commercial whale watching.
|Many whale watchers go out on boats like this one. Others might go
out in dinghies or research vessels. Often, whale watching boats are converted
|Courtesy of: Patricia L. Russell|
Because of its popularity, there are opportunities for people to work as
guides and operators in areas where whales are sighted. Whale watching companies
look for experienced locals to fill these kinds of positions. Unfortunately,
the work is seasonal.
No matter how you look at it, whale watching is here to stay.
"I've seen whale watching grow since I first tried it over five years ago.
Just looking at the number of whale watching companies on the World Wide Web
tells you it's really growing," says Morrow.
"It's a fun way to spend an afternoon and it's also a great way to gain
an appreciation for these amazing animals," says Morrow.
If you're interested in doing some whale watching, here's some advice:
Look for a tour operator with lots of experience. This will help make sure
you have the best chance of seeing whales.
"Experience is the thing to look for. You don't want someone taking you
on a wild goose chase," says Rang.
Experts say you also want to look for a knowledgeable operator who can
tell you something about what you're seeing.
"You want more than just a boat driver. It's nice to have someone explain
something about the area and the whales," says Morrow.
You might want to try joining an organization such as the Cetacean Society.
Such groups provide information, newsletters and whale watching trips.
Cetacean Society International
Whale Watching Web
Explore whale watching around the world
A hands-on project to foster excitement and learning about the