Whale Ho!

Venture beyond the coastline to see Maine’s largest wildlife

Not only are whale-watching tours the easiest way to see massive marine mammals, they also allow guests to be immersed in a different habitat filled with wildlife. “We try to have guests think of whale watching as being similar to an ocean safari,” says Julie Taylor, lead naturalist at Bar Harbor Whale Watch. Humpback, finback, and minke whales are commonly seen on tours in Maine, along with a variety of other marine wildlife such as porpoises, white-sided dolphins, puffins, terns, bluefin tuna, sunfish, and basking sharks. Taylor helps guests understand what to look for and why the tour is taking its specific course: “This is usually related to oceanography and sea-floor depth, which can influence where their prey concentrates,” she says.

With a number of whale-watching services dotting Maine’s coastline, marine exploration is readily accessible. Among them, Bar Harbor Whale Watch is the only Whale SENSE–certified operation in Maine, meaning it pledges to follow strict NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) guidelines when interacting with the marine mammals, including keeping a safe distance—about 100 feet—between whales and boats. If a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale is near, the tours keep a much larger distance: a minimum of 1,500 feet. “We leave close approaches up to the whales,” says Taylor. The operation’s catamarans are equipped with jets instead of propellers to prevent injury in case of just such an approach.

READY TO VENTURE OUT INTO THE DEEP BLUE?
HERE’S WHAT TO EXPECT

There’s a 90 percent chance of seeing at least one whale on a tour, but the number of whales varies from trip to trip. “We’ve seen up to 20 large whales on a single trip,” says Taylor. Smaller species, such as dolphins, are sometimes spotted individually, sometimes in groups of more than 100.

Due to climate change and warming water tempera-tures, whale-watching tours now have to travel farther out to sea, usually between 20 and 30 miles offshore. The average trip ranges from three-and-a-half to five hours.

July and August tend to be peak months for whale sightings, but “it depends on a number of complex oceanographic variables that impact their prey,” says Taylor.

Ticket prices are usually around $60 to $63 for adults, $30 to $35 for juniors, and $14 for children five and younger.

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