How Many Whales Will We See?


Despite what ANY whale watch company may claim, you can never really guarantee how many whales will be seen, or even if any whales will be seen, when you go whale watching. You can guarantee a free return ticket (aka “rain check”) if you don’t see a whale, but you can’t guarantee the whales themselves.

That being said, the extremely high productivity of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary area means that whales are usually here, often in good numbers, and that’s why we have seen whales (at least 1) on over 99% of our trips since 1983. In fact w sometimes we go years without “skunking” (a “skunk” is whale watch industry slang for a trip in which no whales were seen). Most of the time we “skunk” it is due to fog rather than lack of whales (it’s hard to find whales when you can’t see!)

So while it is impossible to say for certain how many individual whales you will see when you go whale watching the most likely answer to this question is:  probably between 1 and 50. Pretty vague, huh? Well, that’s because these animals are WILD. They are not captive creatures in the confines of a zoo or aquarium, and they certainly don’t perform tricks for our amusement.

These whales are wild animals that come here to feed in the biologically rich waters of the Gulf of Maine. Their abundance is determined by the amount of food available to them. At times (many times, actually) there are so many whales in the area that we can’t possibly visit with them all in the limited time we have on the water. But at other times it takes cooperation between all whale watch boats in the area to find just one or two whales. We never know what we will see when we leave the dock but that’s part of the fun of whale watching! It is unscripted and unpredictable.

Okay, so if we can’t predict exactly how many whales we will see, how about the best time to go look? When is that?

Well, once again it is impossible to say what time of day, or even what time of the year is best to go whale watching because the answer to that question also changes based on the amount of food (ie small schooling fish) available to the whales.

But before we get too hung-up on the total number of whales we might see, consider these questions: If whales had not been hunted to the brink of extinction would they be the iconic symbol of endangered wildlife that they are today?

Would it still be so exciting to see a whale if seeing one was commonplace?

I suspect not.  Remember that these whales are endangered!  Their numbers are only a small fraction of what existed in the pre-whaling era. One of the most exciting things about seeing a wild whale is simply encountering an animal which still teeters on the brink of extinction. It is estimated that less than 1% of people living on planet Earth will see a whale in their lifetime. Therefore, any time you see a whale, even one whale, you are truly privileged.  To see many whales at one time, as we often do, is a sight VERY few people will ever get a chance to see.