Whale Watching Cruises in Florida: A Guide

Although there are whale watching opportunities in Florida, there are, as far as we can tell, no whale watching cruises. In other words, there are places along the coast were you can spot whales, and you could conceivably see a whale while sailing on the ocean around Florida, but there do not appear to be cruises that specifically advertise themselves as “whale watching cruises.” There are, however, cruises that are designed to showcase marine life off the coast of Florida, and these resemble whale watching cruises, even though the focus of these tours is obviously different. Below we explain the whale watching scene in Florida, letting you know exactly what is and is not available.

The whale watching situation in Florida is similar to the whale watching situation in Texas, and we wrote about both for the same reason, namely, to indicate that whale watching cruises basically don’t exist in these places, which is important since presumably a lot of people do think they exist, and also to point people in the direction of alternative activities that are kind of like taking a whale watching cruise. Unlike Texas, though, Florida at least has some culture of whale watching thanks to the right whales that migrate down from the Gulf of Maine during the winter. Like the gray whales in the Pacific Ocean, the right whales head south to give birth in warmer waters. The whales generally make it only as far south as Georgia and Northeast Florida, although some whales will occasionally head as far south as Port Canaveral. The whales can be spotted off the Florida coast from about December through March, at which point they head north again.

You might think this migration could be the basis of a robust (if seasonal) whale watching industry, complete with lots of charter boat companies offering cruises off the coast of Florida to get a closer look at right whales. After all, the gray whale migration is largely responsible for the massive whale watching industry along the Pacific Coast. However, there are far fewer right whales than gray whales, and in fact right whales, thanks largely to the former popularity of whaling, are an endangered species; there are a only few hundred left. (They are called “right whales” because they were the “right whales” to hunt – they stay near the surface and close to shorelines, and they also have a high blubber content, making them an easy and attractive target for whalers.) For this reason, the whales are very difficult to locate and spot, so a significant number of whale watching cruises would be fruitless searches, and more importantly the boats could harm the whales, which is the last thing you want to do to an endangered species. As is the case with so many endangered species, right whales have something like a cult of followers, which we don’t mean in any sort of derogatory way, so lots of people come to Northeast Florida to see if they can spot a right whale from the shore. Thus, there is whale watching in Florida, but it is very different from the situation in a place like California, where there are multiple whale watching cruises a day from a variety of coastal cities.

So, to sum things up, there aren’t really whale watching cruises in Florida, even though there are a number of dedicated whale watchers in the state. Before concluding, though, it is worth mentioning that there are lots of cruises that focus on the other marine life found along Florida’s shores. Dolphin watching cruises are especially popular, and on these cruises you might see other forms of sea life in addition to dolphins, and the same can be said of cruises dedicated to other animals, like manatees. Of course, cruises that focus on dolphins, manatees and other animals are not whale watching cruises, but they are similar and will likely appeal to the type of person who would take a whale watching cruise in Florida if they existed. And you just might see some whales, too.

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