I am always amazed when people who live near me say they have never seen a whale. Perhaps I would find this less shocking if lived in Idaho or Arizona. But I am from Rhode Island- the Ocean State!
We are only a few hours away from beautiful Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, New England’s only national marine sanctuary and one of the best places in the country to see large whales such as Humpbacks and Fin Whales.
I have been fortunate enough to have watched enormous Humpbacks jump clear out of the water, spotted endangered North Atlantic Right Whales right from the Cape Cod shore (there are less than 350 estimated to be left in the world), witnessed the speed of racing Fin Whales, seen pods of Orcas hunt in the Pacific Northwest, and bonded with a curious Minke Whale in Maine.
Why is it Important to See Whales?
There is no replicating the exhilaration of seeing a whale in the wild with photos or words. 88,000 pounds is just a number until you get to physically experience how tiny we actually are in comparison to these massive creatures. A whole new world opens up to you, and you can’t help but feel an emotional or spiritual link to something much greater.
Every whale watching excursion I have been on has included people who were seeing a whale for the first time. Their reaction is usually the same. They are in shock. They are captivated. They are moved. They leave with a different perspective and a deeper connection to whales because of the experience.
As humans, our natural inclination is to protect what we feel a connection to. Whales all over the world need protection from human created dangers every day. Some whales (like North Atlantic Right Whales) are facing a very real threat of extinction within our lifetime. Whale allies are more important now than ever.
Love Them but Give Them Space!
How we see whales in the wild matters! While meeting a whale has inspired many a conservationist, there is a thin line between protecting what we love and hurting what we love.
Whale Watching has become a 2 billion dollar a year industry, and has convinced many countries that it is more profitable to preserve whales than to hunt them.
However, one of the biggest threats facing whales today is crippling ship noise and vessel strikes. Crowding whales can have negative impacts on feeding, breeding, and their physical and mental health.
The least invasive (and most unknown) way to watch whales is right from land! The Whale Trail lists over 100 sites along the west coast of the United States and Canada where whales can be seen from the shore. The Center for Coastal Studies in Cape Cod also offers fantastic guided whale and seal watch walks.
If you do choose a whale watching cruise, do some research to make sure the company upholds ethical whale watching standards- which includes not approaching whales too closely. The World Cetacean Alliance offers responsible whale watching guidelines and courses, and provides a list of WCA Certified Responsible Whale Watching companies around the world. Companies that are Whale Sense participants also promise to uphold ethical and sustainable whale watching practices.
Make 2023 The Year to Meet!
The time of year to see a whale will of course depend on what region you live in (or where you travel to). A new year provides 12 whole months of opportunities. Research whale watching opportunities now and make a goal to responsibly meet one new whale in the new year. My goal is to meet a Gray or Sperm Whale. Let the whale inspire you and learn what you can do to help protect them.
While you are out there, you may also meet cool sharks, seals, sea lions, turtles, dolphins and mola molas (sunfish).
In the upcoming weeks, Twisted Orca will be featuring stories on real whales, such as Old Thom the legendary Orca and Salt the beloved Humpback mom.
Maybe you will see one of them on your journeys! Say hi!
*Note: While all whales are big, they can range in size from roughly 330,000 lbs. (the Blue Whale) to 400 lbs. (the Dwarf Sperm Whale).