Top Ten Places to Encounter Whales


To me, the term "whale watching" has always seemed like a misnomer. It's more like whale meeting. Whether or not they're as intelligent as we are (or more so), an encounter with whales and their smaller cousins—dolphins and porpoises—takes on the character of a social event: a gathering of peers.

The behavior of cetaceans can range from curious to playful to downright helpful. Pilot whales were named for their seeming tendency to lead fishermen to schools of fish. And there's nothing more delightful than a gathering of porpoises swimming alongside your boat, gracefully twirling and jumping as you chug along. Of course whales can also seems disdainful—but that's just the risk you take when you venture out into society.

Wherever you go whale watching, show your concern for whales by choosing an ecologically responsible operator. Key things to look for include the presence of a trained naturalist on the trip, and the involvement of the operator in educational and research efforts. Whales and dolphins should never be chased. Instead, hold back at least 300 feet. If the cetacean chooses to approach you, well that's a nice thrill. But the power should remain in the, uh, flipper of the animal. Of course you'll be traveling with a good pair of binoculars, so if you want a closer look, use them.

Whale watching tends to be a seasonal event. All eleven of the great whales are migratory, most of them traveling annually between tropical and polar climes. While most whales prefer the blood-warm waters near the equator for breeding, it's the nutrient-rich water near the poles that puts the blubber on their bones. Humpbacks have been known to travel 4,000 miles each way on their annual trip to and from winter breeding grounds and summer feeding grounds. This is the longest documented migration of any mammal.

Two countries continue to defy the international ban on hunting whales: Norway and Japan. Neither of these are poor countries, so their defiance cannot be excused solely by economic necessity. Rather, they say the necessity is cultural, about preserving a way of life. This is where you can put your tourist dollars to work. Many of the fishing boats in Norway and Japan are now conducting whale watching tours. Besides providing the fishermen with an economic alternative to whaling, taking a tour here is a friendly way to demonstrate your support for whales.

But hey, it's your free time. You should go where you want. We've picked out eight other places to encounter whales. Go say hello…



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