What’s it like to see a whale? Some of us who have been very blessed already know. Some of us have gone out on day-long whale watching tours. Others have traveled across the globe on expedition ships, fishing boats, or private yachts. And still others have seen them from the beach in Hawaii or Australia or Dominica Island in the Caribbean. Yet all of us who have seen them say the same kinds of things, “It was magical, breathtaking, awe-inspiring” and some even say, “life-changing.”
What makes seeing whales so special? To start, there are only about 800,000 of them and almost 8 billion of us, so they’re actually quite rare and hard to see. Going to the places they go is the first step in having the experience, yet which places are these and how can you get there? Whales feed on small crustaceans called krill and krill hotspots attract large populations of whales. Some krill hotspots include Antarctica, Iceland, Alaska’s Inside Passage, Vancouver Island and Quebec in Canada, Baja California in Mexico, New Zealand’s South Island, and off the shores of Scotland.
Traveling by expedition ship or private yacht is the most comfortable and fun way to see whales because you can be relaxing in the lounge one minute, then called up to the deck by your expedition leader or crew in the next for this wonderfully meaningful experience. Still, whether it’s a day trip from Bar Harbor, Maine, or a walk on the beach in Oregon, your moments in the presence of these amazing beings are ones you will always remember.
I remember the first whale I encountered. I was on an expedition ship in Antarctica and I had already been blown away by the great blue ice and otherworldly landscapes of this unbelievable place. Suddenly, the expedition leader was hollering over the P.A. system and crew members nearby were jumping up and down. “It’s a fin whale!:” they screamed as they said they had never seen one here. I had never seen a whale at all, and as I peered over the railing of the ship at the long silver shape barreling through the dark water beside the ship, I felt it. That zingy, crazy, ‘the world is nothing like I thought it was’ feeling that comes from seeing a whale. I only glimpsed it for a few seconds, yet that was enough. I became as whale-crazy at that moment as the rest of them.
I went on to see whales and also dolphins on many of the expedition ships I sailed on, yet two more experiences are burned into my mind like a brand.
The first was an encounter I had in Alaska’s Inside Passage. I was hanging out alone in the passenger lounge of our 70-passenger ship while my fellow passengers were all out on the bow watching for humpback whales which had been coming in and out of view. I’d had some amazing humpback viewing in the previous days and I was happy to just enjoy this moment on my own away from everyone else and staying quiet.
I was leaning out the side window of the ship peering into the green water as it flowed lazily by and I was thinking to myself, “I wish a whale would jump up out of the water here, right in front of me as I’m watching.” And suddenly two whales leaped out of the water just outside my window like they were practicing synchronized swimming! They arced off in opposite directions while I stared, gob smacked. “Oh my God!” I thought and looked around to see if anyone else had possibly been watching. I was still alone, the only witness. “No one’s going to believe this,” was my next thought.
My other mind-blowing whale encounter took place in the icy waters between Greenland and Iceland. Again, I was on an expedition ship and we were making our way to Reykjavik, when suddenly the ship slowed to a crawl and all of us ran out on deck to see what was happening. As we came up on deck into the wild wind and crashing waves we couldn’t fail to notice that we were surrounded by whales!
A pod of 30 or more humpback whales were going the same direction we were as if they were escorting our tiny vessel across the watery expanse. These were massive humpback whales diving and surfacing, moving side to side in front of and behind our ship. The feeling filling all of us on deck was electric. We all stood mesmerized, occasionally snapping photos on our iPhones trying to make sense of what we were really seeing. We stayed with them for almost an hour. We had just seen a juvenile polar bear not 30 meters from our ship railing the day before and now this! Nature was kicking our butts and we were in awe.
So what’s it like to see whales in person? Like most people, I find it very hard to describe. Crazy thoughts and feelings come over you like, “There are things happening on this planet that I have absolutely no knowledge or understanding of.” A whole population of intelligent creatures are living out their lives in tandem with ours. We don’t know what they’re thinking or what’s important to them yet when we find ourselves in their presence, our jaws drop to the floor and we marvel. That’s all we can really do is marvel and hope to experience it again.
Are you ready to have your own whale encounter? I hope so. If more people had this consciousness-expanding experience, we might all think differently about how we care for our earth. Other beings besides humans are living here, and our own lives could be so different if we stopped to learn more about them.
Wild Nectar offers some outstanding opportunities to see whales. Check out our Antarctica, Arctic, Australasia, Baja, and Alaska trips as a starting point. Or contact us and let us know what kind of whales you’d like to see. We can help. Helping you have your own whale encounter is at the heart of what Wild Nectar has set out to do. We offer wind-in-your-hair, immersive trips that allow you to experience the world in a more profound and meaningful way, and come back changed. The whales are waiting for you. It’s time to go see them!