Like lots of endangered species, right whales have a passionate following, and every year people travel to states along the East Coast to try to catch a rare glimpse of one of the right whales migrating along the coast. Since whale watching cruises are a popular way to see whales, you might be wondering if there are whale watching cruises for right whales in particular. Unfortunately, there are not, and actually this isn’t really unfortunate because there are good reasons for the lack of right whale watching cruises (more on this in moment). Below we have compiled some information about right whales, as well as listed some information about seeing right whales since you can’t book a cruise to see one.
There are two main reasons why you can’t take a right whale watching cruise, and both are related to the fact that right whales are endangered. First, this obviously means that there aren’t many right whales to be seen at all. There are only about 500 in the world, making them one of the world’s most endangered marine mammals, so the majority of right whale watching cruises, if they existed, would be fruitless searches. Second, sailing boats specifically to find right whales could be harmful to the whales. The type of smaller ship used for a whale watching cruise wouldn’t physically hurt or kill a whale, although this is a problem with larger vessels sailing in and out of southern ports on the East Coast. (There are laws in place to protect marine life that require ships to reduce their speed when approaching certain ports during certain parts of the year.) Rather, the problem with a whale watching cruise is that it might be distressing to the whales, particularly because many of the females are taking care of newborns. That is why right whales migrate to the warmer waters off the coast of Georgia and Florida – to give birth. (As an interesting side note, the migration to warmer waters for birthing purposes is a fairly universal practice among whales, and lots of whale watching cruises are set up to capitalize on whale migration patterns.)
How, then, are people ever able to see right whales if you can’t go looking for them on a boat? First of all, we should note that right whale sightings are quite rare, and so a lot of people are not seeing right whales. However, they are nevertheless possible to spot without a ship because they tend to swim close to the shore and near the surface of the water. In fact, their tendency to be visible from shore is related to their historical plight. Back in the whaling era, they were one of the easiest whales to kill because they were so often in easy reach. They also happen to be rather meek creatures – Moby-Dick was no right whale – with high blubber contents, thus making them the “right” whale to kill, and hence their name. Although their tendency to hew closely to the shore almost led to their extinction, it is this very practice that allows people to see right whales. Their swimming patterns are also important to right whale recovery efforts, as people are encouraged to report right whale sightings, which help scientists make population estimates.
So, you can’t go out on a right whale watching cruise, but you can still see them, even if this is rare. It is best to be on the Florida or Georgia shore sometime from December through March, when the whales are actually living off the coast. In other places along the East Coast you could see right whales in transit, heading south in the winter or north in the spring, but obviously it is even harder to spot a right whale when it is only passing by. At least they are more or less in one place from December to March, even if there are very few in the area to see. However, if you make the journey to see right whales, you might be one of the lucky ones, and if so you’ll have experienced a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experience.