New Zealand

Whale Watching Tips

Your first whale watching experience will be an exhilarating one and you want to be prepared for the moment when you see that magnificent creature at sea. The tours usually span from one and a half hours to three hours. But whale sightings only lasts between five to ten minutes once the whale is spotted. Having been on four whale watching trips in New Zealand and Australia, I’ve gathered some tips on how to feel my best while at sea and some additional tips on capturing the best moments on camera so that I can relive that moment again and again.

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  • Anticipate sea sickness. Pop a sea sick pill at least 30 minutes before you head out. This will prevent a lot of mess. Be sure to check if the pill is drowsy or non-drowsy as you don’t want to be nodding off when the whale shows up.
  • Don’t skip breakfast. Very often people will go on their first whale watch trip fearing they might throw up and avoid eating breakfast prior to the trip. Skipping breakfast only results in acid and gas build up which could potentially make you even queasier. I usually take a very light breakfast like a toasts or cereal and avoid any fatty or fried food. Bring along some healthy snacks like nuts or pretzels for munching to stop your stomach acids from building up.
  • Stay hydrated. Bring along a bottle of water with you, especially if you decide to hang out on the open deck to spot dolphins and enjoy the morning sun.
  • Keep warm. It is usually cooler out at sea and even chillier with the ocean breeze. Bring a light jacket with you.
  • Sunblocks and sunnies. Yes, the sun is harsh so don’t skimp on lathering yourself with sun-protection.

While at sea, you want to remember these tips to avoid from feeling queasy:

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  • Stay outside in the open because fresh air helps a lot.
  • Go to the lowest deck and stay towards the rear of the vessel. The closer you are to the water, the less motion is felt.
  • Suck on a sweet or mint – somehow it helps.
  • Keep your eyes on the horizon. Looking at something that is not moving helps the equilibrium.
  • Lookout for dolphins, seals seabirds, flying fishes, albatrosses, whatever you can spot. Keep your mind occupied and off your queasy stomach.

Getting the perfect whale shot!

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  • Rule #1 is, always have your camera ready. Make sure your batteries are charged and your equipment ready.
  • Next, you will need to understand basic whale behaviour. I don’t claim to be a specialist in this, but from my experiences and tips from different skippers, here are some pointers.
  • Keep a lookout and be on a scanning mode. Never fix your eyes on one place. When scanning the water’s surface, lookout for spouts of water coming off the surface.
  • Once you have that initial sighting, keep looking in that direction. You should be able to see a mass above the water’s surface. Depending on how long the whale has surfaced, the sperm whale may do a few things; spout (blow water), breach (belly up) or dive (tail up and back into the deep).
  • Enjoy the moment while the whale is calm and snap away, but don’t take your eyes off the whale as the whale has to dive back into the sea. If you are fortunate, the whale may do a breach, but this is quite rare.
  • Get your camera ready for the dive. Be focused, centered and ready to snap your shot. The tail of the whale is what you want to capture. When the tail is completely out of the water and its underside visible, you will notice patterns on the tail called the fluke print. This is unique to each whale, as fingerprints are to humans.

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