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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

24 March 2011

Where to watch whales

24th March 2011

The thing with whale-watching is that your enjoyment entirely depends on what whales you see and what they are doing that day. We’ve been on five different whale-watching trips all over the world and results have varied.

Off the Californian coast at Monterey we went out in a typical converted trawler and followed a pair of Humpback Whales for some time, the baby whale actually breaching (throwing itself right out of the water) at one point. We also saw distant Blue Whales and a pod of dolphins. I got rather seasick but really enjoyed the trip.

In Canada we went looking for Killer Whales, a spine-jolting two hour trip across rough water in a fast inflatable to spend thirty minutes watching a handful of black fins from the legally prescribed distance (a long way) away. The whales were resting, and did nothing. Then we had a two hour trip back.

In the Carribean we were out in a sleek white motor catamaran to the west of Dominica, looking for Sperm Whales. We found them and followed them a while; they were doing lots of shallow diving so we saw the huge fluked tail many times. Didn’t see anything else, and the boat actually headed back to shore early because some people were seasick.

You’ll recall that we went whale-watching in Hermanus, South Africa. Another converted old boat from my recollection, and we saw several Southern Right Whales. There were some really close-up views, and in the distance a number of spectacular breaches. The only catch here is that we had sightings every bit as good from the clifftops of Hermanus; for free and with no rough seas!

And today we went out in a big state-of-the-art purpose built whale-watching boat at Kaikoura, looking again for Sperm Whales but hoping for others – the Kaikoura Trench is a rich spot for a wide variety of cetaceans. We sighted three Sperm Whales, each one floating on the surface for ten minutes before doing a deep dive and showing its flukes. We also saw a small pod of Dusky Dolphins who swam close to the boat. The boat was splendid, but the whole thing a bit slick and the crew didn’t seem readily approachable with questions.

So what can I tell you? I can’t really rank these whale-watching destinations, because how much you enjoy each trip will depend entirely on the behaviour of these wild animals. You can bet my recollection of our Canadian trip would be fonder if the Killer Whales had been jumping out of the water, which the guide annoyingly told us they often do. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is, though, and say that the greatest show on earth as far as whales are concerned is the annual arrival of the Southern Right Whales around Hermanus. You will see these huge animals breach, if you have a little patience, and you won’t even need to get on a boat.

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