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A Whale of a Tourist Attraction

Last week, a star performer at SeaWorld tragically killed its trainer before a live audience. The star in question was a killer whale named Tilikum, who was captured in the wild off the coast of Iceland many years ago. Since his capture, he has been made to perform for audiences in theme parks in Canada and the United States. While debates may rage about whether or not creatures like killer whales should be kept in captivity and turned into performers, there’s no question that seeing such an animal in its natural habitat is an incomparable—and elusive—experience.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to go on a half-day wildlife-watching cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours in Alaska. The boats depart from the docks in Seward, a scenic town a few hours down the incredible Seward Highway from Anchorage. From cute paddling little beavers to sunning seals, the wildlife that I saw during that trip was abundant, and included a few different types of whales, including killer whales as they leapt out of the nutrient-rich, icy waters.

What’s so amazing about seeing a killer whale in the wild is that it’s not a sure thing. Because there’s no guarantee that the whale is just going to appear and leap before your camera, when it does, it’s all the more special and surprising. One minute, there’s just sea and sky, and the next, there’s this amazingly giant panda-colored sea creature making its grand entrance for a split second or two before it sinks once again beneath the surface.

In places like California and Hawaii right now, March marks the very tail end of the whale-watching season, and while killer whales are more commonly spotted in places like Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, Southern Argentina, and New Zealand, you do have a good chance of seeing other whales like humpbacks and gray whales if you know the right place to go. Aside from spectacular Kenai Fjords National Park, Point Dume in Malibu and Makapu’u on Oahu are two of my personal favorite spots to go whale-watching in the wild.

Whether in the wild or in captivity, have you ever seen a whale?

Photo courtesy of IgoUgo member Lauren27

rachel_berg

My name: Rachel Berg.

Favorite way to get around: By Venetian gondola during starlit high tide, gliding past decaying and slightly spooky palaces, with perhaps a bottle of prosecco placed between the gondola seat cushions.

View that took my breath away: Unable to sleep in the mystical city of Sfat in Israel, I wandered outdoors predawn and was treated to a purple-on-purple sunrise below the mountaintop that seemed to emerge feet-first through ground-level clouds.

Greatest travel lesson learned: Sunny weather isn't everything. Some of my best travel memories involve go-karting through a deluge turned mud-fest in Mexico, drinking tea in the cold Denali tundra, and watching electric thunderstorms roll through national parks out West.

Most challenging travel moment: Getting leveled by altitude sickness in Cuzco and realizing that my body was forcing me to slow down and rest despite the fact that there was so much to do and see.

Travel ambition: To see the northern lights.

Comments

Jennifer
Reply

Personally, I think the entire concept of Sea World is pretty awful. It’s tragic that humans have taken these animals from their natural environments to perform circus tricks so we can oooh and ahhh in momentary delight. Even though I have only seen a whale at Sea World (to answer your question!), I have seen other marine animals in the wild. It’s far more memorable to see them this way. A few years ago, I was having a bloody mary with a few girlfriends at Duke’s, a seaside restaurant in Malibu, and saw several dolphins splashing about and leaping from the water. It was amazing! Far better than seeing them cooped up in a pool where you can feed them dead fish and scratch behind their ears.

Sheila Beal
Reply

I’ve seen tons of humpback whales in Hawaii — Maui is really the best spot for whale watching in Hawaii. I’d rate the Big Island as the next best island. You’ll still see them there through April.

I waited so patiently to see a whale at Makapu’u on Oahu last February, but didn’t see any signs. So, I’d say you were pretty lucky if you did seem them there.

Exhaust Fans
Reply

Winter, is an excellent time to go whale watching. I’ve been on a whale watching tour in Monterey and was able to see some whales. December-April is the best time for whale watching.

Joel
Reply

We took a whale watch from Boston Harbor last summer and it was fantastic! We actually saw more whales on this cruise than we did on a previous one from Maui. Some even came within several feet of the boat. So if you find yourself in New England, know that you have whale watch options there too!

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