Everything You Need to Know About Whale Watching
Whale watching is the act of observing whales in their natural environment. It is mainly a recreational activity for aquatic enthusiasts and invites scientists who study marine animals for research.
It is estimated that the whale watching industry rakes in over 2 billion dollars annually, and the industry has experienced a massive surge in growth which has given rise to debates regarding the use of whales as a natural resource.
Due to the money generated from tourism, whale watching has played an important role in aiding the coastal communities of developing countries. This has given rise to support for protecting these creatures from threats, giving rise to sanctuaries and marine protected areas.
Read on to discover exciting information about whales so that you may decide if whale watching is for you.
Whale watching informally began in 1950 in San Diego, where people could attend a public venue to witness the migration of gray whales. Five years later, whale watching began officially and started attracting customers willing to pay a dollar to witness their behaviors from closer.
In the following decade, whale watching spread throughout the western coast of America, and this resulted in many events occurring worldwide, which shaped the industry.
Some of them include the initiative taken by Zoological Societies to implement commercial whale-watching activities. The classic book (dubbed by BBC Wildlife Magazine) ‘The Whale Watcher’s Handbook’ was also published.
Eventually, commercial whale watching spread to over 100 countries resulting in a net flux of revenue generated due to tourism.
Let us explore the kinds of whales and their significance to the industry.
Types of Whales
Humpback whales grow up to 16m in length and can weigh up to 30 tonnes. They are popular with whale watchers due to certain acrobatic behaviors they exhibit, such as breaching and tail slapping.
These animals migrate up to 25,000 km each year, hunt prey solely in polar waters, and breed in warmer climates, living off the blubber stores they accumulate during their feeding frenzies. Humpback whales attract a very high number of tourists every year.
Orca whales are found in every ocean and are distinctive due to their black and white color. They can weigh up to 8000 pounds and live up to 45 years.
You can find them feasting on bigger prey like seals, sea lions, and even larger whales, and they hunt in packs when needed.
Grey whales can reach a length of up to 15m, weigh around 41 tonnes, and live 70 years. They’re bottom feeders, which means they dive to the bottom to scoop up smaller sea animals like shrimp and crabs.
Whale watching has grown so much that it has started to affect whale behavior, migratory patterns, and breeding cycles. The biology and ecology of whales are changing due to interference from humans.
Environmental campaigners have laid down some rules for small boat owners not to surprise the animals and disturb them by making too much noise and too many sudden turns.
Uruguay has made it illegal to be within 300m of a whale and passed legislation declaring its territorial waters to be a sanctuary for marine animals.
Despite being at the top of the food chain, around half of the whale species are endangered or vulnerable to threat, including the Humpback Whales. The main reasons being due to fisheries bycatch and habitat loss.
Why Whales Matter
Whales play their part in controlling the effects of climate change. Each great whale removes about 33 tons of carbon dioxide from the environment.
They also have significant effects on the marine ecosystem, such as the fertilizing of phytoplankton with their poop, by providing iron, nitrogen, and phosphorus. Because of their migratory habits, they spread nutrients across latitudes in a process called the ‘Whale Pump’.
Since phytoplankton makes up 95% of ocean life and contributes to about half of the atmosphere’s oxygen, whales are indirectly responsible for providing oxygen and absorbing harmful carbon emissions.
You might not be familiar with whale watching, but after reading this article, we’re sure you’ll agree that whales are fascinating creatures. Now that you’re aware of the significance of their contribution to the environment, you can do your part by either donating to whale conservatory programs or even booking a day trip to go whale watching with your friends and family via a company that understands the importance of these animals.
Click here to book an amazing experience in Sitka, Alaska.