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How to Choose a Dolphin or Whale Watching Tour and tips for once you're out there

From savvy and sophisticated travelers seeking a conscious experience, to families wanting an adventure both exciting and educational, how do we know if our choice in whale or other marine mammal encounters are safe and sane for both us and the animals we seek to connect with?

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What training has the crew had, specifically, the people who will interact with guests and guide the tour? Ask specifically about training, study, research participation or length of experience observing whales.

Is whale watching a primary focus for this boat? Many companies run seasonal whale watches in addition to other business, such as diving. Be sure the cruise you select is marine wildlife focused (not a fly-by glimpse as you head off elsewhere). Do they do offer whale-watching every season and actually devote time and energy to studying whales?

How long has the boat company been in business? Is this a reputable operator? Does the company respect whale watching guidelines? Do smaller boats honor advertised "maximum" passenger load ? Beware companies promising, the "closest you'll ever get." That may well be due to the fact that competing companies are more respectful of the animals and/or guidelines in place. Also make certain that you will not be surprised when you arrive at the dock of a less-known company and find your boat overflowing at the seams with "last minute add-on" passengers. It can mean the difference between first class seats on the airplane and riding a bus at rush hour.

dolphins crossing bow of catamaranWhat type of boat is it? It takes both a quality boat and an experienced, knowledgeable crew to deliver an exceptional whale-watch experience. Many say the ideal boat for whale-watching is a catamaran — the twin hulls make it stable, and the higher perch allows you to see whale spouts easily and observe whale behavior without waves getting between you and the animal. Looking down between the shadowed area of the boats twin hulls is similar to being on a glass bottom boat - with nothing between you and the whales or dolphins below! There's also room to move around freely for photos.

Zodiacs (inflatable rafts) are quick and for the rough and ready. They are not for everyone however. Pregnant women or those with bad backs should consider a less concussive, and more stable vessel.

Smaller boats and/or group sizes offer more attention to each guest, and a more intimate experience with every animal encountered.

How is the boat set up? Does it offer comfortable (dry?) seating for watching whales? Is shade available for tender-skinned visitors? Is there a bathroom on board? Is it propelled by engines that whales may find disturbing? We strongly suggests taking a good look at boats with both whale-watching and sea-worthiness in mind. For instance, check the ratio of passengers to boat size. "Small groups" may indeed be a true statement for a small boat that is overcrowded with passengers. However walking freely on a stable larger boat may suit you better than sitting elbow-to-elbow with passengers confined on a smaller vessel (especially if one or more get sea-sick!).
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Does the boat carry hydrophones so you can listen to whale song? This is one benefit that you may not have thought about, once heard, whale song will haunt you for the rest of your life.

What's included in the price of the cruise — snacks? breakfast? lunch? drinks? How long will you be out? On some cruises, food and beverages may be included in the price or are for sale. If for sale, prices may be steep. You also may want access to bathroom facilities - and shade!

Do they guarantee a whale sightings? Those concerned about whales say guarantees may cause captains to chase whales or whale watch in impacted areas- already too many boats. Guarantees can put pressure on both operators and whales. Some feel the point should be to enjoy the day and whatever reveals itself.

Argh! Hawaii fisherman details collision with humpback whale; 'I think the whale is fine'

too close!How close will you get to the whales? Run your mouse over the "square" above to the left to see a boat almost run over whales! Excuse the shaky camera as we attempt to flag the boat down. No success until the last minute, as you will see (at that, only in time to veer off). Even "slow" boats may have a whale pop up in front of them, however the operator in this video was both aware there were whales in the area, and was traveling at a speed that prevented intervention until the last moment. "Closest you'll ever get" may be a claim you'll wish you didn't receive!

How much does the whale watch cost? Cost must be weighed against other factors, including those outlined above. Check prices in ratio to trip length, "bargains" may not the best deal after all. Then again if you are pressed for time, this may work for you. Consider though that "fast boats" (jet engines, outboard motors) may not only be a nuisance to the whales, but may "miss" pilot whale leapingdisturbed whales that temporarily dive underwater nearby.

Do any proceeds from the whale watch benefit whale protection or research? Companies with a vested interest in the resource, (in a perfect world) should be just as concerned with conservation in and education of the same resources they are exploiting.


Dolphin and Whale Watch Tour Tips

Don't Get Green!

If you're prone to motion sickness, choose an early trip. The wind almost always picks up as the day progresses and can cause choppiness and rougher seas. It also makes it more difficult for the whale watchers to locate the whales. If you do decide to take something, like Dramamine® or Bonine®, check with your pharmacist, and find out if there are any complications with other drugs you may be taking. Take the medication at least a full hour before the trip. Eat lightly, avoid grease or fatty foods, alcohol and carbonated beverages. A good nights sleep beforehand is always a plus.

Protect Those Baby Blues

Don't forget the sunglasses and some sort of hat or visor to shade your eyes. The glare from the sun (even on cloudy days) can make it harder for you to see, and give you a headache if you're squinting. Even if you are sitting in the shade, 60% of the sun's rays bounce back up from the water's surface. Go for polarized shades, they make a world of difference!

Slap on the Stuff

Sunblock is a must, no matter what time of year it is. Put it on ahead of time, it takes 20 minutes to set in, and not wash off onto coral reefs.

To Scan or Not to Scan the Horizon

Binoculars are always helpful, but unless you're a very experienced whale watcher or you're watching from a land lookout, they'll just get in the way. Looking through them is tough in the open ocean, and trying to fowhale watching hawaiicus with all the bouncing going on will probably give you a headache. To shoot or not to shoot Bring the camera, but by all means, don't spend all your time looking through the lens. You'll miss too much because your field of focus will be so much smaller. First, enjoy the sights and then try to get a few good shots. Chances are unless you're a pro, you'll end up with a lot of water shots. Keep the kiddies entertained Young children can get quite bored when whale watching, so bring along something to entertain them. Tracking whales is tough for anyone, let alone a child, who has a short attention span. (Remember, on the average, whales stay down for up to five minutes!) Choose a boat where your child can see off both sides from their seat .

Although our sighting rates are at 95+% we cannot guarantee sightings, interaction with wild dolphins, whales, snorkeling, nor ideal weather conditions. We reserve the right to not facilitate in-water OR shipboard encounters which we feel may compromise the well-being of our guests or ocean wildlife. All passengers are required to wear locator/flotation devices. We do not offer transportation to the boat harbors.

How to Choose a Whale Watching Tour

Wild Side adheres to the IWC's General Principles for Whalewatching to minimize the risks of adverse impacts of whalewatching on cetaceans.


Best of the West | Deluxe Wildlife Charter - Looking for a charter that does whale watching only? We can help setting you up with like-minded folks, we love those charters too!


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