NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Whales were once hunted to near-extinction, but today many people choose to stalk them with cameras instead of harpoons.|
From Cape Cod to Patagonia and points beyond, travelers are devoting part or all of their vacation time to getting as close to the massive sea-going mammals as possible.
Along the way, trip organizers say, people pick up some valuable lessons about the world in which they live. Plus, spotting a blue whale measuring 100 feet long and tipping the scales at 60 tons promises to be an unforgettable experience.
"It's just incredible," said Jeanne Prentice, director of sales and marketing at Baja Expeditions, which organizes cruises in Mexico's Baja California area, "when momma whale comes up to the boat and looks into your eyes. It brings people to tears regularly."
Cruise organizers say whales are one example of the fantastic things you'll see on these kinds of trips. There is also unique fish, bird and plant life, as well as some awesome scenery.
If you're short on time, many tour companies in costal locations such as Cape Cod, Mass., Monterey, Calif., and Maui, Hawaii, offer daylong whale watching trips that'll get you out on the water, spotting some whales and back to terra firma in a few hours.
Call Me Ishmael
Many people's first impression of whales comes from Herman Melville's classic "Moby Dick," where the titular character sent Capt. Ahab and all but one of his crew to a watery grave.
Cruise organizers say, fearsome images aside, whales are really gentle creatures. Their voyages, they say, stress safe viewing for all parties—including the whales. The Baja area, the 760-mile long peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, plays host to nearly every type of whale that nature has to offer, and several companies conduct tours of the area.
"I think you'll find whale watchers are a pretty tight-knit group of people," Prentice said, "and people who love whales will go anywhere to see them."
Baja Expeditions offers several whale watching tours including one aptly titled "Whales, Whales, Whales." The eight-day, 400-mile voyage travels around the tip of the Baja peninsula in search of Fin and Minke whales. Passengers cruise aboard the 80-foot Don Jose and can swim in the Sea of Cortez. In addition, naturalists will lead daily discussions and slide shows.
"Whales are very tactile creatures," Prentice said. "Not all gray whales are friendly, but the ones who are liked to be rubbed down."
The trip is conducted in January and February and costs $2,195 and $1,995 per person, double occupancy. The company also conducts a blue whale cruise in March and April and a Sea of Cortez cruise in April and May.
New York-based Lindblad Expeditions offers three whale-watching voyages to Baja California, the most popular of which is called "Among the Great Whales." The nine-day trip offers views of whales both aboard a 70-foot ship and the smaller Zodiacs that bring passengers to water level for some intense mutual scrutiny.
"You get so close—safely, of course—to the wildlife," said Jennifer Maguire, an account supervisor with BSMG Worldwide. "The biggest thing about this trip is the experience, not sitting in the cabin watching a nightly show."
The trip includes an expedition leader and a team of naturalists to explain and discuss the place and things you see.
Trips depart on dates in January, February and March. The costs range from $2,990 to $4,430 per person double occupancy and airfare is not included.
The Pacific Northwest has several prime whale watching locations, including the San Juan Islands in Washington State, and also Victoria, British Columbia.
Heading up to Alaska? Dolphin Charters offers several whale sighting cruises, including the Petersburg to Ketchikan tour, running from June 6-13 for $2,695. The itinerary includes a cruise through Frederick Sound to spot humpback whales.
Walrus Island Expeditions in Homer, Alaska, conducts three- and six-day natural history tours in the Walrus Islands and on the coast of Togiak National Wildlife Refuge on the Bering Sea coast of western Alaska.
In New England, Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown is one of several companies offering whale-watching cruises. And if you're in Australia, stop by Hervey Bay, which some have called the whale watching capital of the world.
Naturally, there are many, many other locations for whale watching. An Internet search will turn up the names of whale watch tour companies, and the individual Web sites will list schedules, fees and tour descriptions.
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