All About Whale Watching

Whale watching is an activity that grew out of the whaling industry of centuries past. In those days, the goal was to hunt down whales for their blubber, bones and meat. Strict regulations have nearly eliminated whaling in most industrialized nations, but these gentle giants are still providing a major source of revenue.

Some opponents of a return to whaling have successfully argued that whale watching is in fact a far more lucrative industry than whale hunting. That certainly has proved true in the United States and Canada, which boast whale watching industries that generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue every year.

In many areas, whales can be observed from shore, but whale watching tours and cruises offer a far more intimate encounter with the world's largest animals. Such tours have been rapidly gaining in popularity for decades.

Whale watching as an organized commercial activity began in California in 1955 when a local boating company began charging $1 to take passengers out into the open water to observe the gray whales that frequent the area's feeding grounds up close in their natural habitat. The endeavor was so wildly successful that whale watching quickly spread across the country and then the world.

Today, whale watching tours and cruises range from large boats carrying hundreds of passengers on short excursions, to small private voyages aboard yachts offering every amenity. Whale watching tour rates can run from around $35 for a spot aboard a large whale watching vessel to $500 or more per hour aboard a private yacht.

While the prices in some areas or with certain companies may appear steep, most whale watching tour operators have become extremely adept at finding whales, and now offer guaranteed whale sightings on every voyage. Higher prices also usually guarantee a shorter voyage to the open sea areas where whales congregate. Many people will not want to spend hours getting to and from whale feeding grounds only to spend 30 minutes or so observing the whales. So, $10 more per person for a company that offers a swifter voyage aboard a modern vessel will be more than worth it for most.

When you do reach prime whale watching areas off the east and west coasts of the US and Canada, a large variety of whales can often be observed. However, there is little question that the most exciting species to encounter, especially for those who have come for a good show, is the ever-present Humpback Whale.

Severe whaling restrictions put in place over 70 years ago mean most whales swimming the oceans today have never known humans to be a threat, and so feel completely confident and safe in swimming up alongside boats and even interacting directly with passengers.

The whale watching season in most North America whale watching destinations runs from spring to late summer (usually May through September), though winter whale watching opportunities also exist in southern California, where gray whales congregate along the coastline, and in Puerto Rico, where thousands of humpback whales come annually to calve.

Whales are magnificent creatures whose intelligence, curiosity and sheer size make observing them in their natural habitat an unforgettable experience. A full-service industry has grown up around the exploding demand to partake of that experience, ensuring that those interested in doing a bit of whale watching get the best show possible.

A very positive side effect of the popularity of whale watching has been the solidifying of whaling restrictions, as whales prove themselves to be far more valuable alive than dead and processed into consumer goods.


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