Learning to recognize clues

Seabirds diving by the dozen? Their presence suggests that there is food – probably small fish – that can also be consumed by any number of whale species. Stay alert to see whether they will cash in on the opportunity, too!

Speaking of food, whales’ prey can become trapped and concentrated in tide rips, which increases the likelihood of seeing cetaceans in these areas. A tide rip is recognized by waters of a different colour or heavy chop.

Open your eyes... and your ears

Despite their impressive size, whales can go unnoticed by a distracted observer. Indeed, they only need a few seconds on the surface to breathe and can then remain under water for many long minutes.

To maximize your chances of spotting whales, it’s important to keep your eyes on the water and scan the horizon. If a whale is in the area, a spout or a back emerging above the water surface might catch your attention. Binoculars can sometimes facilitate sightings of whales in the distance, but they are no substitute for the naked eye, which provides a much wider field of view.

Foggy weather or a blazing sun? Your ears become like a second set of eyes. Whales’ spouts, their vocalizations and unusual movements of the water can clue you in to the presence of these marine mammals.

Predicting their movements

No sooner do you spot a whale and it disappears under the water. Will you see it again? Take note of the direction of its movement, because it might resurface to breathe again in a few seconds, just a short distance away.

Depending on the species, the number of consecutive breaths varies: two to three in belugas and minke whales, three to four in blue whales and five to ten in humpback and fin whales. If the whale arches its back, it is because it is taking its final breath before diving for several minutes. Also, when diving, a whale can travel great distances. It is therefore impossible to predict where it will resurface.

Enriching one’s observations

To enjoy your observations to the fullest, have a field guide handy to identify marine mammal species. Other resources such as Whales Online can help you learn to differentiate and understand certain behaviours such as feeding or breaching. Lastly, many land-based whale-watching sites as well as excursion boats are staffed by naturalists to answer your questions.

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