Whale watching is to whaling what shooting by camera is to shooting by gun. Whereas the conservationists opine that watching whales alive is more profitable, the concerned industrialists argue that the whale watching philosophy is causing huge losses to the whaling industry. Compared with whaling, the whale watching industry is quite a new development. Whale watching history is traceable to 1950 when Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego was opened to the public as a Gray Whale watching spot. Although whale watching is mostly for fun, it is also employed for scientific research. The Montreal Zoological Society started Fin and Beluga whale watching in 1971. Humpback Whales are objects of special interest for whale watchers on account of their jumping out of the water and slapping the water with their tails. Norway, Japan, and Iceland are the top three whaling nations. In Iceland, however, the trend is fast shifting from whaling to whale watching while the other two are still reluctant to accept the conservationists’ point of view. Whales are the largest animals which ever lived on planet Earth. The largest Blue Whale has been estimated to weigh 200 tons while, at an average, the Blue Whales weigh around 120 tons. A whale calf gains about 100 kgs. in weight daily. Whale watching is a lifetime and thrilling experience because ‘seeing is believing.’
1. Lajes, Pico Island
Pico Island is one of the islands of the Portuguese Azores, known for its black volcanic earth and UNESCO-designated ancient vineyards. It is located 175 km. south of Sao Jorge and 7 km. east of Faial. Its area is 46 x 16 sq. kms. Until 1987, whalers used to hunt whales in the waters of the Azores. Queimada is the point the whalers used to locate whales. It is now one of the most famous whale watching spots. Nineteen species of cetaceans; mammals including whales and dolphins have been observed in this area. Sperm Whales are also found in these waters. The Azores whale watching code requires maintaining a minimum of 50 meters from the whale, not to encircle the whales, not to use too many boats, and not to view them for too prolonged a time.
2. Massachusetts, Cape Cod
Cape Cod is located the farthest east of Massachusetts in the northeastern USA. It includes the towns alongside Cape Cod Canal up to Provincetown. It is a peninsula in the Atlantic Ocean. There are many whale watching fleets in Provincetown which patrol Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The spot is famous for sighting many species of whales, particularly the Humpback Whale, Fin Whale, Minke Whale, Sei Whale, and the critically endangered species North Atlantic Right Whale. The Worldwide Fund has declared Massachusetts one of the best whale watching spots in the world. April to October are the best months for whale watching here, and many companies in Massachusetts guarantee 99 percent whale watching success.
Dominica is an island nation in the Caribbean Sea. Its total area is 750 square kilometers. The island is known for its unaltered natural beauty and, therefore, it is at times called ‘the nature isle of the Caribbean.’ A group of Sperm Whales lives in the area throughout the year. In addition to many other cetaceans, there are many species of whales in the area, and they include: Killer Whales, False Killer Whales, Dwarf Sperm Whales, Pygmy Sperm Whales, Humpback Whales, and Bryde’s Whales. On account of the presence of whales all year-round and the number of species makes Dominica one of the most attractive spots for whale watchers.
4. North Stradbroke Island
North Stradbroke Island, known by locals as ‘Straddie,’ is located in southeast Queensland, Australia. It is approached by ferry from Cleveland. Unlike most of the whale watching spots which require the presence of the deep sea, Straddie is a land-based whale watching spot. It is famous for watching the annual migration of the Humpback Whales. Point Lookout is the best spot for sighting whales from the seashore from May to September. Seeing the majestic whales from land is a memorable lifetime experience, and the spot is of particular interest for those who are scared of being on the deep sea for whale watching.
5. Brier Island
Brier Island in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia is an Atlantic province of Canada. It was named after the uncultivated Brier Rose growing on a vast stretch of the island. The Bay of Fundy is considered the naturalist’s paradise on account of the abundance of marine life. Joshua Slocum, who first sailed round the world in 1895, belonged to this place. The Bay of Fundy separates two provinces, Nova Scotia and Brunswick, and it extends excellent opportunities for whale watchers. Different species of whales are seen here in different seasons, and they include: the endangered Right Whales, Humpbacks, Finback, Minke, and Blue Whale, Sperm Whale, Beluga, and Pilot. Whale watching requires patience and keen interest on the part of the observer. Many semi-precious minerals are also found on the island.
Antarctica, the fifth largest continent in the world, is a land of harsh climatic conditions being the coldest and driest place on Earth. Although only a few species of fauna and flora survive here, the place is a tourist attraction. In fact, the only inhabitants of Antarctica are either the researchers or the tourists, and their population fluctuates from 1,000 to 4,000 depending upon the season. Its southern ocean is home to many animals including whales. Whale watching season is November to March when the temperatures may rise to about 14 c. while in other months the temperature falls even below -40 c. Except Orcas, or Killer Whales, which is a toothed whale, all the species found here are baleen or toothless. These whales travel long distances in search of warm waters in winter.
Iceland is located between Europe and North America in the north Atlantic Ocean. Contrary to its name, the climate of the island is fairly mild. It is a famous whale watching spot for Minke, Humpback, and Blue whales. Husavick’s Whale Museum is of special interest for whale watchers. The museum was opened in 1997, and its lower floor is concerned with the whale’s habitat, and the upper floor accommodates life-size assembled skeletons of different species of whales including Humpback, Minke, and Sperm Whales.
Hawaii is the latest and 50th state which joined the Union on August 21, 1959. The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is one of the most important whale habitats and a famous spot for whale watching. It accommodates thousands of Humpback Whales. The sanctuary extends over 1,400 square miles of the Hawaiian waters. The sanctuary conserves endangered North Pacific Humpback Whales. Whales swim up to 3,500 miles from Alaska to access the shallow and warm waters of Hawaii. The Hawaiian whale watching industry attracts about 1 million tourists and earns over $100 million annually for the state.
9. Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
Plettenberg Bay was formerly known as Bahia Formosa, meaning ‘beautiful bay.’ It is also known as Plett and is a town in the Bitou municipality in western Cape Province of South Africa. It is located 210 km. from Port Elizabeth and 600 km. from Cape Town. July to December is the breeding season of the Southern Right Whales which come here to calve and are a common sight. Bryde’s Whales live here throughout the year but are seen more frequently in the summer months. From July to December the Humpback Whales are seen while they migrate. Killer Whales, otherwise known as Orcas, and Sei Whales are also found in this locality.
10. Baja, California
Baja is a Californian peninsula covering a 55,360 square mile area. It has four deserts. Baja is a famous whale watching spot and attracts tourists to see migrating Californian Gray Whales. Gray Whales are 52 feet long and weigh over 36 tons. More than 10,000 whales cover 10,000 miles from Alaska to access the warm waters of Baja, California for calving. They travel at the maximum speed of five miles per hour. Baja is a unique spot for watching whales and their calves.
The whale watching rules require the tourists to reduce the speed of boats, avoid sharp turns, avoid chasing or encircling whales, avoid surprises to whales, avoid watching them in groups of boats, and to avoid swimming with dolphins. The whalers, on the other hand, can ill afford to follow these rules. The largeness of whales is, however, an undisputed aspect;
‘From space the planet is blue,
From space, the planet is territory.
Not of humans
But of the Whale’¦’