7 Tips for a Successful Whale Watching Trip

Whale watching—seeing some of the largest animals on Earth in their natural habitat—can be a thrilling activity. Being prepared for your whale watch and knowing what to expect can help make your trip a successful one. Following these tips will help you get the most out of your experience. 

Book Your Trip With a Reputable Company

Tourist photographing Southern Right whale

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Whale watching can be a thrilling adventure. It may also be an expensive, long trip, especially if you have children. If you're going whale watching, taking some time to research the whale watching tour operators will help you have a fun, successful whale watching trip.

Follow the company's guidelines as to when to arrive for boarding the boat. Make sure you arrive in plenty of time to stand in line for tickets and get on board. Whale watching should be a fun, relaxing experience, and rushing around at the beginning makes for a hectic start.

Check the Weather and the Marine Forecast

Cruise ship in stormy seas

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Maybe you love adventure and the idea of cruising through rough seas, and getting splashed with waves is your idea of a great time. Whale watch operators will not go out if the seas are unsafe, but most captains and crew don't get seasick!

If you're not sure about rough seas or whether or not you'll get motion sickness, you'll probably want to go whale watching on the calmest day possible. Check not only the weather forecast, but the marine forecast. If the forecast is for high winds or seas, it's likely you will have a rocky trip.

Check the Sightings

Whale watching tour and a blue whale
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Whales are wild animals, so sightings can never really be guaranteed (although some companies "guarantee" sightings, this usually is a complimentary ticket to return on another day if no whales are sighted). But you may want to check on recent sightings in the area to see what species have been around and how many whales have been seen. Many companies will offer this information on their website. If there is a whale research organization in the area, check their website as they may be more likely to offer an objective report of recent sightings.

Instead of focusing on how many whales you're seeing or what they are doing or not doing, enjoy the whole experience, from smelling and breathing in the fresh ocean air, observing the birds and other marine life you see on the trip.

Pack for a Day at Sea

Tourists watching Humpback whales
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Remember that it can be 10-15 degrees cooler on the ocean, and showers can happen during the trip. Dress in layers, wear sturdy, rubber-soled shoes, and bring a rain jacket if there's even the slightest chance of rain. Wear plenty of sunscreen and a hat (and make sure your hat doesn't blow away!).

Think About Taking Motion Sickness Medicine

Woman sitting on a boat

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If you are not sure how you will react to the motion of the ocean, think about taking motion sickness medicine. Many whale watches are several hours long, and this can be a very long time if you are not feeling well. Remember to take motion sickness medicine before you board the boat (usually 30-60 minutes prior) and take the non-drowsy version so you don't end up sleeping the entire trip!

Bring Your Camera

Contents of a camera bag displayed
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Bring a camera to record your experience. Also, bring plenty of batteries and make sure you have a clear memory card or lots of film in case the sightings are spectacular!

Keep in mind that the average point-and-shoot camera might not deliver the speed and magnification needed to get the best pictures, especially if the company is following whale watch guidelines that dictate they watch whales from a distance. If you have a 35mm camera, a 200-300mm lens provides the most zoom and stability for whale watching. Remember to get some fun shots of you and/or your family with the ocean in the background or interacting with the naturalist/crew on board!

If At First You Don't Succeed...

The fluke (tail fin) of a blue whale

Michael Mike L. Baird / Moment / Getty Images

Remember that the photos you see on brochures and websites are likely the best photos taken from many years of whale watches, and while you may see those things, they are likely not everyday sightings.

The one thing that can be guaranteed about whale watching is that every trip is different. If you don't see a certain species the first time, try again another day or another year, and you'll likely have a completely different experience!