If your summer plans are taking you to the Northeast this year, you’re not going to want to miss taking a whale watching adventure! For (too) many years of my life, I thought whale watching was something limited to the West Coast. In my mind, I figured it would be fun to do next time we’re out in Oregon or Northern California.
So imagine my surprise and delight when we were planning our ten year wedding anniversary trip to Bar Harbor, ME last year and I realized whale watching is one of the most popular things to do for visitors! From then on, I knew that no matter what else we did, whale watching was going to happen. I had a lot of questions before we went and now that we’ve done it, there are a couple things I would have done differently. Read on for my best whale watching tips!
The historic Bar Harbor Inn
5 Whale Watching Tips for First-Timers
Tip 1: Know When to Go Whale Watching
On the East Coast, whale watching season runs from the end of May through the end of October. But based on some research and conversations, it seems you have a better chance at seeing whales if you go on the later end of that window.
Our trip was at the end of August and we were so lucky to spot a pair of humpback whales! But it took going to several known feeding spots to finally find them.
Seeing whales is never guaranteed because well, they are wild animals and life happens. But the captain definitely works hard looking for them! Plus, there are plenty of other cool things to look at.
Tip 2: Choose a Sunset Whale Watching Tour
OK, this may be personal preference but I loved the idea of a sunset tour. It really is the best of both worlds and you are guaranteed a few pretty pictures regardless of whale sightings.
Most tours will have other things to see like puffins, lighthouses, seals and other sea life. But knowing we would at least have a sunset at sea made me feel better about the potential of missing out on whales. Lucky for us, we saw both!
Look at these sweet little seals! I love the way they are popping up out of the water to say hello. This is where the telephoto lens came in handy. I’m so glad I had it with me!
Tip 3: Wear Layers and Hats
It was a hot day in August when we had our tour so we almost ignored the advice to bundle up. We each had a light jacket and at the last minute, my husband bought a beanie just in case it got chilly. And y’all, it was freezing!!!
What we didn’t know about whale watching is that the boat (ours was a catamaran) goes really fast and the wind is incredible! I had my hood up the whole time and we were so glad to have that hat! Next time, I would even bring gloves. The tour is 3+ hours long so you don’t want to be miserable. And yes, if you’re prone to motion sickness, take your Dramamine ahead of time. You can thank me later.
Tip 4: Stay Inside
We didn’t want to miss a single photo opportunity so when we boarded the catamaran, we went straight to the top and snagged a prime outdoor seat. But the action really doesn’t start until you’re offshore. Getting there takes a while and again, it was super cold and windy.
When we did finally see whales, they announced where they were over the loudspeaker and we circled them many times to be sure everyone got to see them. There was plenty of time for anyone on board to move around to take a look. So if you’re wondering where to sit, choose a nice table and relax until the big show.
We moved inside about halfway through the tour and there were some great informational books and whale bones being passed around that we would have missed otherwise. Very cool!
Tip 5: Arrive Early to Your Whale Watching Tour
We purchased our tickets in advance so it didn’t really occur to us that we would need to arrive much more than a few minutes early. Thankfully, Bar Harbor is a small town and as we were milling about we saw a long line forming so we went on over. I’m so glad we did! I’d say we were probably the middle of the pack but there were still seats available when we boarded.
Plus, they take souvenir photos of each group before you board and that slows things down a bit. The photos are developed and available for purchase by the time the tour is over.
The best part about our whale watching experience is that I would do it all over again. On this trip, it was just me and my husband but I know the kids would love it. And as wildlife would have it, you’ll see something new every time.
If you’re planning your first whale watching adventure or your 10th, I hope you have a great time!
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