Whale watching is the practice of observing whales and dolphins (cetaceans) in their natural habitat. Whale watching is mostly a recreational activity (cf. birdwatching), but it can also serve scientific and/or educational purposes. A study prepared for IFAW in 2009 estimated that 13 million people went whale watching globally in 2008. Whale watching generates $2.1 billion per annum in tourism revenue worldwide, employing around 13,000 workers. The size and rapid growth of the industry has led to complex and continuing debates with the whaling industry about the best use of whales as a natural resource.
Organized whale watching dates back to 1950 when the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego was declared a public venue for observing Gray Whales and the spectacle attracted 10,000 visitors in its first year. In 1955 the first water-based whale watching commenced in the same area, charging customers $1 per trip to view the whales at closer quarters. The industry spread throughout the western coast of the United States over the following decade.
In 1971 the Montreal Zoological Society commenced the first commercial whale watching activity on the eastern side of North America, offering trips in the St. Lawrence River to view Fin and Beluga Whales.
In 1984, Erich Hoyt published the first comprehensive book on whale watching, The Whale Watcher's Handbook which Mark Carwardine called his number one "natural classic" book in BBC Wildlife Magazine.
By 1985 more visitors watched whales from New England than California. The rapid growth in this area has been attributed to the relatively dense population of Humpback Whales, whose acrobatic behavior such as breaching (jumping out of the water) and tail-slapping thrilled observers, and the close proximity of whale populations to the large cities there.
Whale watching tourism has grown substantially since the mid-1980s. The first worldwide survey of whale watching was conducted by Erich Hoyt for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) in 1992. It was updated in 1995 and submitted by the UK government to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings as a demonstration of the value of living whales. In 1999, the IFAW commissioned Erich Hoyt to expand the detail and coverage of the survey and this was published in 2001. In 2009 the survey was completed by a team of economists and this report estimated that in 2008, 13 million people went whale watching, up from 9 million ten years earlier. Commercial whale watching operations were found in 119 countries. Direct revenue of whale watching trips was estimated at US$872.7 million and indirect revenue of $2,113.1 million was spent by whale watchers in tourism-related businesses.
Whale watching is of particular importance to developing countries. Coastal communities have started to profit directly from the whales' presence, significantly adding to popular support for the protection of these animals from commercial whaling and other threats such as bycatch and ship strikes using the tool of marine protected areas and sanctuaries. In 2007, the Humane Society International sponsored a series of workshops to introduce whale watching to coastal Peru and commissioned Erich Hoyt to write a blueprint for high quality, sustainable whale watching. This manual, later translated into Spanish, French, Indonesian, Japanese, Chinese and Dutch, with co-sponsorship from WDCS, IFAW and Global Ocean was updated in English in 2012 in ebook form.
The rapid growth of the number of whale watching trips and the size of vessel used to watch whales may affect whale behavior, migratory patterns and breeding cycles. There is now strong evidence that whale watching can significantly affect the biology and ecology of whales and dolphins.
Environmental campaigners, concerned by what they consider the "quick-buck" mentality of some boat owners, continue to strongly urge all whale watcher operators to contribute to local regulations governing whale watching (no international standard set of regulations exist because of the huge variety of species and populations). Common rules include:
In Uruguay, where whales can be watched from the beach, legislators have designated the country's territorial waters as a sanctuary for whales and dolphins. It is illegal to be less than 300 metres from a whale.
Whale watching tours are available in various locations and climates. By area, they are:
In South Africa, the town of Hermanus is one of the world centers for whale watching. Between May and December southern right whales come so close to the Cape shoreline that visitors can watch whales from their hotels. The town employs a "whale crier" (cf town crier) to walk through the town announcing where whales have been seen.
You can watch the whales in Hermanus from the cliff tops, from a boat or the air. Boat-based whale watching tours are available out of the Hermanus New harbour which allows the public to view southern right whales from June till Mid December. Port Elizabeth runs a boat-based whale watching tour out of the Port Elizabeth harbour which allows the public to view southern right whales from July to November, humpback whales from June to August and November to January, and Bryde's whales all year round, up-close. Visitors can also see humpback whales from the lighthouse at Cape Recife (the Westerly point of Algoa Bay), and southern right whales from viewing points along the coast. Boat-based whale watching (and dolphin watching) is also a popular tourist attraction in a number of other coastal towns in South Africa, such as Plettenberg Bay, where the industry is linked to conservation and education efforts through Plettenberg Bay-based volunteer marine conservation organisations. Plettenberg Bay is visited by southern right whales in the winter months and humpback whales in the summer months. Bryde's whales are resident throughout the year. The other famous centre for whale watching is False Bay. Tours leave Gordon's Bay and follow the coast around the bay. Species include southern right whales, humpback whales and Bryde's whales. Orcas are present during the winter months. Visitors include pilot whales and pygmy sperm whales. Many species of dolphin are encountered including Haveside dolphins. The same tours include great white sharks at Seal Island and the African Penguin Colony at Simon's Town.
In Brazil, humpbacks are observed off Salvador in Bahia State and at the National Marine Park of Abrolhos during their breeding season in austral winter and spring. Likewise, southern right whales are observed from shore in Santa Catarina State and Espírito Santo during the same season. Mother/calf pairs can come as close to shore as 30 meters (about 100 feet). Income from whale watching bolsters coastal communities and has made the township of Imbituba, the Brazilian "whale capital".
In Argentina, Península Valdés in Patagonia hosts (in winter) the largest breeding population of southern right whales, with more than 2,000 catalogued by the Whale Conservation Institute and Ocean Alliance. The region contains six natural reserves, and is considered to be one of the premier whale watching destinations in the world, particularly around the town of Puerto Pirámides and the city of Puerto Madryn, as the whales come within 200 m (660 ft) of the main beach and play a major part in the large ecotourism industry in the region.
In Uruguay, southern right whales are observable from the beach in two coastal departments - Maldonado and Rocha from June to November. The points where most sightings in Maldonado are made are Punta Colorada, Punta Negra, Playa Mansa and Punta Salinas in Punta del Este, and in Rocha off La Paloma and La Pedrera beaches.
In the Southern Ocean there are many spots to see whales, both from land or aboard ship. Albany on the south coast of Western Australia the town where the last land based whaling station in the southern hemisphere was located is now home to a thriving whale watching industry. In Victoria a popular site is Logan's Beach at Warrnambool, as well as in the waters off Port Fairy and Portland. In Tasmania whales can be seen all along the east coast and even on the River Derwent. In South Australia whales are watched in the Great Australian Bight Marine Park areas and closer to Adelaide at Victor Harbor.
In eastern Australia, whale watching occurs in many spots along the Pacific coast. From headlands, whales may often be seen making their migration south. At times, whales even make it into Sydney Harbour.
In Colombia, the towns of Bahía Solano and Nuquí are visited by a large number of Humpback whales from late July to the beginning of October. In southern Costa Rica, Marino Ballena National Park has two seasons when whales visit.
In Panama, the Pearl Islands archipelago receive an estimated 300 humpbacks whale from late June to late November. These had become now the main attraction for whale watching tours starting in Panama City. In the Gulf of Chiriqui, the World Heritage Site of Coiba Island National Park and the islands near the town of Boca Chica are offering opportunities for whale watching. Isla Iguana near Pedasi is now a popular destination for whale watchers. Several foundations train local community members to perform as guide and captains for whale watching tours.
In Ecuador, from June to September, there are many sites from which large groups of humpback whales can be seen, including Isla de la Plata (AKA Little Galapagos) and Salinas, at the tip of the Santa Elena Peninsula.
Tidal straits, inlets, lagoons, and varying water temperatures provide diverse habitats for multiple cetacean species. Substantial numbers live off the coasts of Great Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Scandinavia, Portugal, Spain, and France. Commercial car ferries crossing the Bay of Biscay from Britain and Ireland to Spain and France often pass by enormous blue whales and much smaller harbor porpoise. Land-based tours can often view these animals.
Chanonry Point is one of the best spots in the UK to view Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus. The dolphins are visible from the shore, particularly on an incoming tide when they play and fish in the strong currents. Other wildlife, including porpoises and grey seals, can also regularly be spotted.
Off the south coast of Ireland, humpback whales and fin whales are regularly seen on organized whale watching trips between July and February. Species seen all year include minke whales, common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Risso's dolphins, Orcas and harbour porpoises. There is also a resident group of bottlenose dolphins in the Shannon Estuary which attracts tourists all year round.
In northern Norway (Nordland and Troms) orcas are visible in the Vestfjorden, Tysfjorden, Ofotfjorden and Andfjorden as the herring gathers in the fjords to stay over the winter and off the Lofoten islands during the summer. At Andenes on Andøya in Vesterålen and around Krøttøya in Troms, sperm whales can be observed year round, summer whale watching trips occur from May till September, winter trips with killer whales and humpback whales are offered from October till April. Tromsø also offers whale watching for sperm whales and other whales. The continental shelf Eggakanten and deep water where the sperm whales congregate, is very close to shore, beginning only 7,000 meters (23,000 ft) from the Andenes harbour.
In Portugal whale watching is available in the Algarve. Lagos and Portimão are the most important whale watching places. The species observed in this area are: bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, striped dolphin, pilot whale, fin whale and orca.
In the middle of the Northeast Atlantic, around the Madeira, the Azores and the Cape Verde archipelagos, whale watching is on the increase and popular due to more protection and education. One of the most common whales in these regions is the sperm whale, especially groups of calving females.
In Spain whale watching is available along the Strait of Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, and in the Bay of Biscay. Tarifa is the most important whale watching town in the Strait of Gibraltar; this gateway to the Mediterranean Sea is also a central point in between the colder waters to the North and the tropical waters off of Africa: a good route for migrating cetaceans. The species observed in this area are: bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, striped dolphin, pilot whale, sperm whale, fin whale and orca.
In the Canary Islands it is possible to see these and others, such as the blue whale, Bryde's whale, beaked whale, false killer whale, Risso's dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphin and rough-toothed dolphin.
In Iceland it is possible to see whales in Eyjafjörður, Skjálfandi and Faxaflói. The towns offering whale watching are Dalvík, Hauganes, Húsavík, and Reykjavík. Most common are minke whale, humpback whale, Atlantic white-sided dolphin, blue whale, and harbour porpoise.
In New England and off the east coast of Long Island in the United States, the whale watching season typically takes place from about mid-spring through October, depending both on weather and precise location. It is here that the humpback whale, fin whale, minke whale, and the very endangered/heavily protected North Atlantic right whale are often observed. For generations, areas like the Gulf of Maine and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (part of the inner waters formed by Cape Cod's hooked shape) have been important feeding grounds for these species: to this day a very large portion of the waters off the Eastern Seaboard are rich in sand lance and other nutritious treats for mothers to teach their calves to feed on.
In the past this area was the US whaling industry's capital, particularly Nantucket, an island just off the coast of Massachusetts. Though strict laws prohibit molestation of these large wild mammals, it is not unknown for the whales to approach whale watching boats uninvited, particularly curious calves and juveniles: it is not unknown in particular, for example, for juvenile humpbacks to approach the boat and spyhop to get a better look at the humans aboard. In recent years it is also not uncommon to see these animals playing and feeding in harbors, including New York City or Boston where fish species of interest to the whales have lately returned in astonishing numbers. As of 2011, an expert from Cornell University has recorded the vocalizations of six whale species including the humpback, the fin whale, and the massive blue whale within close proximity of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the lower portion of New York Harbor and there is at least one company offering marine life tours out of The Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. Due to these increasingly frequent visits, new laws address the safety of boaters, commercial fishermen, and the whales themselves: off the coast of Boston, for example, cargo vessels must slow down to protect the much slower North Atlantic right whale and there is talk of erecting an apparatus for the much more heavily trafficked waters surrounding New York City that can warn boats of a whale's presence and location so as to avoid accidentally striking the animal. Because of the relative diversity of whales and dolphins within easy access of shore, cetacean research takes place at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the Riverhead Foundation among other centers.
Eastern Canada has many whale watching tours in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. Twenty-two species of whales and dolphins frequent the waters of Newfoundland and Labrador, although the most common are the humpback, minke, fin, Beluga and killer whales. Another popular whale-watching area is at Tadoussac, Quebec, where Belugas favor the extreme depth and admixture of cold fresh water from the Saguenay River into the inland end of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Humpbacks, minkes, fin and blue whales are also frequently seen off Tadoussac.The Bay of Fundy is an equally important feeding ground for large baleen whales and dozens of other creatures of the sea; it shares a population of migrating humpbacks with America and is a known summer nursery for mother right whales with calves.
On the east coast of the United States, Virginia Beach, Virginia whale watching is a winter activity from the end of December until the middle of March. Fin, humpback, and right Whales are seen off the Virginia Beach coast on whale watching boat trips run by the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. Sightings are mostly of juveniles who stay near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay where food is plentiful, while the adults continue to the Caribbean to mate. "Mom" and "Dad" pick up their offspring on the way back north where the whole family summers.
Ecotourism based on kayak trips is gaining in popularity in warm-water vacation destinations such as Sarasota Keys. Guided kayak trips take kayakers on a tour of the local ecosystem. Kayakers can watch dolphins breach and manatees eat sea grass, in shallow bay water.
The waters surrounding Virginia are also a known migration corridor for the endangered North Atlantic right whale: Pregnant females must pass through this area around December to reach their birthing grounds down the coast in Georgia and Florida. For these reasons the waters between the Delmarva Peninsula and the barrier islands that stretch southwards towards northern Florida must be monitored every winter and spring as mothers give birth to their calves, nurse them, and then ready themselves and their younglings to return north for the cooler waters near New England and Canada.
About 25 species are observed in the Caribbean waters such as Humpback whales, Sperm whales, beaked whales and many other small cetaceans. Principle whale watch activities : Dominican Republic, East Caribbean islands. Caribwhale, the Caribbean whale watch association, include operators engaged in a sustainable whale watching activity, experts, conservationists and research groups as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Dalhousie University and Association Evasion Tropicale.
On the South and East Coasts of Sri Lanka and The Maldives, the industry is growing. During winter and summer, sperm whales cross the southern tip of the island, migrating to the warmer waters of Southeast Asia. So do pygmy blue whales.
The sea of Mirissa is the place where you can see blue whales and few types of dolphins while travelling in Sri Lanka. Many sightings have been reported in November to April in the year.
On the West Coast of Canada and the United States, excellent whale watching can be found in Alaska (summer), British Columbia, and the San Juan Islands/Puget Sound in Washington, where orca pods are sometimes visible from shore. Three types of orca pods can be observed during the summer months in the Northeast Pacific: resident, transient, and offshore killer whales. On the Oregon Coast, several whale species, especially gray whales, may be seen year-round, and the state trains volunteers to assist tourists in the winter months, during whale migration season. In California, good whale-watching can be found year-round on the Southern California coast. During the winter and spring (December-May), gray whales can be seen from shore on their annual migration (the best spot being Point Vicente), while blue whales are often seen between July and October. Fin whales, minke whales, orcas, and various species of dolphins can be seen year-round. In spring, summer, and fall at the Farallon Islands off San Francisco, one may see humpbacks, grays, and blue whales. In Mexico, the various lagoons of Baja California Sur become breeding habitat in February and March. A number of towns in the Mexican state celebrate the whale's arrival with festivals such as Guerrero Negro, in the first half of February and the port of San Blas on 24 and 25 February.
Each winter 4,000 to 10,000 North Pacific humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii. In the vast waters that line Alaska's coast, an encounter with a whale is likely, if not downright predictable. In the summer, after thousands of whales have made their way to the rich feeding grounds of Alaska waters, sightings are extremely common. Whale watching is possible within as well as outside the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. The best places to see whales in Hawai?i is in the protected channels between the Hawai?ian islands. The best months to see the whales here are January and February when you can expect to see between 2 and 4 whales per 15 minute period, although fluctuations between 0 and 20 sightings are normal.
Many countries in Asia have large whale watching industries. In 2008 the largest, in terms of number of tourists, were mainland China, Taiwan and Japan. India, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Maldives also have dolphin watching and some whale watching. China's dolphin watching is almost entirely focussed on Sanniang Bay in Guangxi. Taiwan has several whale watching ports on its east coast. Japan has a range of whale and dolphin watching businesses on all main islands and Okinawa, Zamami, Ogasawara, Mikura-Jima and Miyake-jima.
In the Philippines, over thirty species of whales and dolphins can be observed around Pamilacan in Central Visayas, Davao Gulf, the northern coast of the province-island Babuyan Islands in Batanes, Pasaleng Bay, and Malampaya Sound, Palawan. The Visayas is particularly known area for dolphin sightings, and is home to one of the larger populations of the Fraser's dolphin in the world. Dolphin species in the Visayas are attracted to fish lures and to commercial fishing operations. In the northernmost province of Batanes, at least 12 species of whales and dolphins has been sighted, making it the single location in the country with the highest cetacean diversity. There seems to be no specific whale watching season in the Philippines, although the calmer waters of the summer season typically provides the best conditions. Some populations, like those of the Irrawaddy dolphin, Bryde's whale, and humpback whales in Batanes, appear migratory. Other populations have yet to be studied. Some former coastal whaling communities in the Philippines have also started to generate whale watching income.
Kaikoura in New Zealand is a world-famous whale-watching site (in particular sperm whales). The sea around Kaikoura supports an abundance of sea life, with the town's income stemming largely from the tourism generated from whale watching and swimming with or around dolphins. Recently the sperm whale watching at Kaikoura has developed rapidly and now it is an industry leader; arguably the most developed in the world. The town, like many around the world, went into recession after the collapse of the whaling industry. Its recent development has been used to advocate the benefits of whale watching over whale hunting.
The Sunshine Coast and Hervey Bay (where the whales stay and rest before migrating) in Queensland, Australia offer reliable whale watching conditions for southern humpback whales from the end of June through to the end of November each year. Whale numbers and activity have increased markedly in recent years.[when?]Sydney, Eden, Port Stephens, Narooma and Byron Bay in New South Wales are other popular hot spots for tours from May to November.
Southern right whales are seen June-August along the south coast of Australia. They are often readily viewed from the coast around Encounter Bay near Victor Harbor and up to a hundred at a time may be seen from the cliff tops at the head of the Great Australian Bight near Yalata.
In the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals, located in the waters of Italy, France and Monaco, there are eight species of marine mammals residents, most of them all year. Frequent summer excursions depart from the ports of Genoa and Imperia, in Liguria, Northern Italy.
The three major whaling nations (Norway, Japan and Iceland) have large and growing whale watching industries. Indeed, Iceland had the fastest-growing whale watching industry in the world between 1994 and 1998.
Erich Hoyt and other conservationists argue that a whale is worth more alive and watched than dead. The goal is to persuade their governments to curtail whaling activities. This debate continues at the International Whaling Commission, particularly since whaling countries complain that the scarcity of whale meat and other products has increased their value. However, the whale meat market has collapsed, and in Japan the government subsidizes the market through distribution in schools and other promotion. In 1997, 2,000 tonnes of whale meat were sold for $30m - a 10-tonne Minke Whale would thus have been worth $150,000. There is no agreement as to how to value a single animal although its true value is probably much higher. However, it is clear from most coastal communities that are involved in whale watching that profits can be made and are more horizontally distributed throughout the community than if the animals were killed by the whaling industry.
Upon the resumption of whaling in Iceland in August 2003, pro-whaling groups, such as fishermen who argue that increased stocks of whales deplete fish populations, suggested that sustainable whaling and whale watching could live side-by-side. Whale watching lobbyists, such as Húsavík Whale Museum curator Asbjorn Bjorgvinsson, counter that the most inquisitive whales, which approach boats very closely and provide much of the entertainment on whale-watching trips, will be the first to be taken. Pro-whaling organisations such as the High North Alliance on the other hand, claim that some whale-watching companies in Iceland are surviving only because they receive funding from anti-whaling organizations.
Enjoyment of observing live cetaceans is rather separated from the domestic whaling industry in Norway; however, whale watching has become a popular national tourist attraction in recent years, especially in Andfjorden (Vesterålen and Troms) and around Tromsø.
In comparison, the government of the Azores has promoted an economic policy centred on tourism that includes whale watching. With the decline of whaling in the early 1970s in the islands, many of the communities of the archipelago involved in whaling (including villages and towns, specifically on the islands of Faial, Terceira, São Miguel and Pico) were transformed into hubs for whale watching services (that followed the migratory tracts during the summer), while older buildings and factories were re-purposed into museums.