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Ocean and seas often look empty at the surface, but when you look for life, there is plenty to see!

Where to find them?

If you want to see cetaceans, some good advice would be to research the species present in your area. You can ask the locals about the species that can be encountered and the season they are most prevalent. Fishermen or whale watching companies are often great resources. Marine mammals are often close to land where there is food and shelter for their calves, however, you can also find them at sea during their annual migrations. Many whale species feed in the polar regions and give birth in the warmer water. Dolphins tend to be resident populations and will more likely stay in the same area. 

« The best time to look for whales is when the wind is low and that the sea is calm ».

Most researchers look at the weather forecast before planning a whale spotting trip. If the wind is below 3 Beaufort (less than 15 knots), you have better chances of spotting something as when there is too much wind, the crest of the waves distract our vision. 

Here are 3 signs to looks for if you want to spot cetaceans!

Blow: like us, cetaceans have lungs and need to breathe regularly (from every 2 minutes to 2 hours for some beaked whales). When they come to the surface, the bigger whales expel water and their blows can be spotted from far away. These exhalations are species specific. A sperm whale, for example, has a very characteristic blow and will form a 45° angle on the left (as one of his blowholes is atrophied). The blue whale makes a blow like a fountain very straight and its blow can be up to 9m!  Humpbacks whales have a V shape from 2.5 to 3 m high. 

In old stories, sailors would yell « there she blows » when a whale spout is spotted and it is fun to encourage your spotting team to do the same..

The low V-shaped blow of a humpback calf and the fluke of its mother

Direct Observation: sometimes you can see a dark shape on the water or a fluke as the whale dives and sometimes a splash. All of these are easier to spot when the sea is calm. If you are lucky you’ll see an entire body. Humpback whales love to jump or « breach » and can be very active at the surface, flapping their fins and tails. Dolphins when they are travelling fast tend to jump into the waves, this is called « porpoising », they are also playful and it’ is common to see them coming to the boat for a bow-riding session. 

Birds: when there are lots of birds flying around a location, there is a chance that below the surface small fish are being hunted by large fish and marine mammals. Birds are indeed taking advantage of the fish that marine mammals are bringing to the surface. Large aggregation of birds are often a reliable a indicator of the presence of cetaceans when the seas are rough.

Two days ago we spotted a very large group of birds. We soon noticed that tuna were chasing smaller fish in a very well organized manner. We didn’t find any dolphins or whales these times but we saw a whale shark 🙂 see below.

A whale shark briefly surfaces below a flock of birds

Hope this small article will help you see some of the most beautiful creatures of the sea!

If you have any questions feel free to contact us!