What is the typical whale-watching experience like?
Whale-watching trips usually depart in the mornings, with many operators offering afternoon excursions also. Cruises typically operate in all but the heaviest weather, and generally run from 2 to 4 hours. Overnight and multiday experiences are also popular in some regions. Vessels range from small zodiacs, which can carry up to a dozen passengers, to multideck, air-conditioned vessels capable of carrying 50 or more. Larger vessels have bathrooms and usually offer refreshments, ranging from tea and coffee to full buffet lunches.
Guests are usually delighted to discover that whale-watching trips encompass so much more than just whales! Depending on which part of the world you’re in, you can expect to enjoy all sorts of other marine life, such as dolphins, otters, seals and sea birds. Being out on a boat also gives you the unique perspective of experiencing the coastline from the water. And, there’s nothing quite as relaxing or invigorating as returning to shore after feeling the fresh salt air on your skin for few hours.
When is the best time to go?
Whale-watching seasons vary enormously all over the world. In fact, many coastal communities enjoy two separate seasons as whales pass to and fro on their annual migrations. So, the good news is there’s always a good time to hit the water and meet the whales. In Hawaii, you can experience humpback whales between December and May, while in Scotland large pods of minkes and orcas gather from April to November. South African waters give shelter to mating and calving southern rights and humpbacks between July and December, while sperm whales can often be found in New Zealand and Dominica year-round. With whale-watching tours now operating in over a hundred countries world wide, coming face to face with these gentle giants has never been easier.
How far off the coast do we go?
Usually, not too far. Typically, whales tend to pass close to shore, which means you won’t have to travel for miles out to sea to observe them. In many places, like Australia’s Byron Bay or South Africa’s Hermanus, you can often see whales from the beach or your hotel balcony. But of course nothing compares to seeing these incredible creatures in their natural environment! Whale-watching tours operate in open sea, sheltered bays, fjords and passages, even rivers.
Are whale sightings guaranteed?
While your chances of seeing a whale are extremely good, remember, whales are free-ranging mammals capable of traveling great distances each day, so sightings are never certain. However, it’s this uncertainness, which makes that first sighting all the more thrilling! Tour operators are usually connected to a whale-spotting network within their region and experienced skippers often develop a sixth sense as to where to find whales. On most days, boats return to port buzzing with smiling passengers. At certain times of the season when whales are plentiful, some operators even offer a money-back guarantee.
How close will the whales get?
This depends on the species and on the temperament of the individual whale; some whales are naturally gregarious while others are shy. It’s not uncommon for certain species, such as humpbacks, to put on spectacular acrobatic displays for their human admirers. If you’re lucky, a whale may approach your boat and swim alongside for a time, showering all in its misty plume. Inquisitive orcas and humpbacks often stick their heads above the water — "spyhopping" — to better observe humans. Grey whale mothers have been known to push their babies towards smaller boats to allow humans to touch and stroke their offspring.
Is it educational?
Most certainly! Whale watching is a highly educational experience, especially if there is an on-board naturalist or guide providing commentary. Guides are generally entertaining, passionate and informative; knowledgeable not only about the whales you are hoping to see, but in the surrounding marine habitat, local history and lore.
How do I book with an ethical/professional company?
The whale-watching operators Expedia recommends are generally affiliated with local marine and environmental protection bodies, are members of accreditation schemes and are aligned with regional regulations and codes governing whale watching. Such operators never harass whales and always “put the whales first.” Many of our recommended operators are directly involved in or support research activities such as data collection. Operators may even ask you to send in your photographs after the trip, which will help researchers track the movements and well-being of individual whales and pods!
How do I make it happen?
So, if you’re ready to hit the high seas, let Expedia take you there. We’ll help you book the cheapest flights, the comfiest rooms, the zippiest rental cars, and the most experienced whale-watching tour guides, all packed up into one handy, consolidated itinerary.