Posted by: Karen Fowler
Since the 1950's, people have been watching the amazing displays of whales. Whales live in every ocean with different species found in different locations; people around the world watch whales with Hawaii, Alaska, and areas of New Zealand being just a handful of some of the most popular whale watching destinations. Whales have many interesting and exciting behaviors that can be seen out on the water during a whale watching trip.
What is Whale Watching?
Observing whales in their natural environments is known as whale watching. Whale watching is most often done for fun, but it is also done by scientists to study the behaviors of whales and to learn more about them. Whale watching can be done standing on the shore, flying on airplanes, or riding on boats owned by businesses or by individuals. Tourist trips on business owned boats are the most common way to watch whales.
  • Whale Watching - Read a wide variety of information on whale watching on this website.
  • Watching Humpback Whales - Watch a video clip of humpback whales taken from a whale watching tour-this is an example of what whale watching is like.
  • Whale Facts - A definition of whale watching and information on the history of whale watching are presented here.
By the 1950s, whale hunting for meat, oil, and baleen had taken its toll and many species of whales were nearly extinct. Whale watching started as a way to study whales in order to increase their populations and save them. Whale watching first started in San Diego, California in 1950 at the Cabrillo National Monument, but it wasn't until later that it became really popular. In the 1970s, people started to care more about the environment and saving endangered species, such as certain kinds of whales; this is when whale watching businesses began to thrive.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare reported 119 countries worldwide that offered whale watching tours in 2009 with the most whale watching occurring in North America, Oceania (Australia and the surrounding regions), the Pacific Islands, and Antarctica. Most whales live in cold regions and migrate south for the winter where many give birth and others mate. Then they go back north to their feeding grounds. Most species of whales can be found in all of the world's oceans; however some species inhabit only specific areas. Many whale species can be watched at different places at different times throughout the year while on their migration route. Believe it or not, some Beluga whales even live in rivers.
  • Basic Facts about Beluga Whales - Read interesting facts about the beluga whale, a whale that sometimes lives in a river, on this page.
  • Fishin' for Facts: Whales - Read about the different parts of whales, such as tail flukes and blow holes, with accompanying illustrations, and learn about where whales are found.
  • California Gray Whale - This website explains where different kinds of whales live-this page focuses on the California gray whale, but to the right visitors can click on different whale species to see specifically where they live and where they migrate to.
  • All about Whales! - A variety of information on whales including where different species are found is presented here .
What to Look for While Whale Watching
There are several whale behaviors that take place that people can see from a boat or the shore; the meaning behind most of these behaviors is unclear. If no whales are seen, look for a spout, which is a fountain of mist up to 10 feet high coming out of the whale's blow hole. A bubble trail in the water also signals a submerged whale. Whale sounds such as songs, wheezes, moans, and whistles are used for communication and echolocation, but generally can only be heard under the water.
Slapping of flippers, tails, and heads could be ways to invite other whales to a group or to warn other whales off. Holding the head out of the water for a period of time allows the whale to look around above the surface and is called spyhopping. Holding the tail, or flukes, out of the water signals a deep dive... holding the tail out of the water for an extended amount of time is sometimes seen. Breaching is when a whale or group of whales jump out of the water and spin in the air, sometimes several times in a row. Courting behaviors include singing males, jaw claps, escorting and guarding of females and calves by males, and associations of males. Males competing for females sometimes lash each other with their tails and display other aggressive behaviors to one another.
  • Facts about Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises - This webpage gives a lot of information on whales, dolphins, and porpoises; it contains a section on how whales communicate and pictures of whale behaviors.
  • Explore Whale Sounds - This is a great web page that discusses the different kinds of whale sounds with a focus on the right whale; sound clips of each call are given.
  • What's that Whale Doing? - Look at pictures of whales spouting, diving, spyhopping, and more on this webpage; elsewhere on the website there are games and quizzes on whales.
For more information on whale watching, please see these links: