In Search of a Whale Tail

In Search of a Whale Tail

It’s hard to avoid expectations, they are just a given in life.  For example When you go to dinner you expect to have a menu with multiple items to choose from, when you book a taxi you expect them to take you to your destination and when you pay a high fee for something your expectations go up.  While traveling has taught me to temper my expectations, I couldn’t help but have high expectations when I paid $145 NZ dollars ($120 USD) for a whale watching tour.  In fact if you don’t see a whale you get your money back. How could I go wrong?
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I saw my whale and the tour was a success, with a perfect whale tail photo to show for it.  However, the tour is one that I would have a hard time recommending.  I was giddy about the prospects of seeing one of the world’s largest mammals in it’s natural habitat, but a little hesitant about the large price tag. So, I headed to the whale watch headquarters in hopes of encountering an over-zeoulous salesperson to give me the pitch about how nothing can compare to seeing a sperm whale in Kaikoura.
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Instead when I walked in no one greeted me and upon enquiring about their whale watch tours I was simply given the times they had available the next day.  Thinking maybe I had to show a little enthusiasm to get them pumped up I asked which tour was the best to spot a whale on.  The woman behind the counter answered flatly, it’s really about luck.  Okay, I said, clearly hoping for more from her to which she responded you can book now without putting any money down.
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I booked a spot on their first available tour in the morning and left with lowered expectations.  Lucky for me we were couchsurfing with an expert on sperm whales.  Our host, Manuel was getting his PhD in sperm whale behavior and offered all the encouragement I needed to get pumped up about my whale watch tour in the morning.  Not only was this one of the best places to spot the huge mammals he told me, but from my pictures he would be able to tell me which whale I saw since he had been studying them for years.
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I woke up early with the kind of anticipation a toddler has on Christmas morning to catch the boat to see a whale.  The boat ride almost had me revisiting my breakfast, but there were a few huge albatrosses to keep my mind off of the bumpy ride.  I also got a mini-education in sperm whales as I gripped my arm rests while the boat crashed down from wave after wave.  Did you know that sperm whales can stay under water for as long as 45-60 minutes?
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While this was an interesting fact, it meant spotting whales might be tough since we were only out in the water for a couple hours giving us a short window to see a whale surface.  As I was trying to do the math on the probability of seeing a whale tail we were informed that one was nearby.  The boat stopped and we checked for the sonar to see how close we were.  Within 15 minutes we were on the roof of the boat overlooking a giant male sperm whale as it shot water into the air from it’s blow hole.
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A mere 10 minutes after the spotting the whale had enough oxygen and started it’s dive.  Poised with the camera ready I got my whale tail shot and was amazed by the enormity of the mammal.  It was an amazing experience to see a sperm whale so close and almost immediately I wanted to see another one. Tiaki, the male sperm whale I saw was the only one we spotted that day, which was disappointing but we did see some fur seals to make up for it.  As I said the day was a success, but they still need to work on their sales pitch.
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WHEN YOU GO:

  1. Bring warm clothes, extra batteries and anything you might need. Make sure you are prepared for your whale watching expedition, because once you leave the shore you can’t go back.  Have  warm clothes as the wind can be chilling on the boat as well as extra batteries for your camera and water to help with sea sickness.
  2. Spend a day in Kaikoura. The city itself is small, but has great views and the peninsula walkway is a must-do.
  3. Don’t get your expectations too high.  You will most likely see just one sperm whale and this means just 30 seconds of whale tail, so have your camera ready!

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To see more photos of Kaikoura, including the beautiful peninsula walkway, visit our photo gallery by clicking here.

If you are planning a trip to New Zealand soon, check out our travel guide by clicking here.

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Comments

» Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) :
May 8, 2012

Most of the whale watching stories I’ve heard have been a bit like the hunt for the Loch Ness Monster, as most people seem to come back having experience choppy waters and not much more! Those are some beautiful shots you managed to capture, and at least you had a couchsurfing sperm whale expert (what are the odds?) to make up for the enthusiasm your tour service lacked!
Read Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)’s awesome post We’re going to Japan!

LOCAVORista Reply:

Steph, thanks for the compliments on my photos. I really can’t complain too much about the tour as I got to see what I wanted and could ask all the questions I wanted of my couchsurfing host. A pretty successful trip to Kaikoura!

» Ayngelina :
May 8, 2012

You got fantastic shots, congrats. I’m from Nova Scotia and we have whale watching as well but it really is about luck, they can’t guarantee it as they don’t know from day to day if the whales will appear.
Read Ayngelina’s awesome post Remembering the exiled of Hawaii

LOCAVORista Reply:

Ayngelina, thanks for the compliments. I agree it is definitely about luck, that seems to be true for any type of animal spotting.

» eatHer :
May 8, 2012

Maybe it all depends on when you go – we saw 6 whales (well water spouts and tails), plus on the way back in while going to check out the seals we were surrounded by about 250 to 300 Hector dolphins. An absolutely unforgettable day, although admittedly it was being surrounded by the dolphins leaping out of the water that was the highlight. Even the crewman said it was a spectacular sight.

LOCAVORista Reply:

eatHER, WOW! Sounds like you had the dream whale watching tour, plus the bonus dolphins- I’m sure you have no complaints at all, what an an unforgettable experience. Makes me want to attempt to whale watch again in hopes of a show like that.

» BKA :
May 17, 2012

One of few life life adventures we may be one up on you!….. We saw so many, 10 ish, in Cabo San Lucas, all from a tiny rubber raft and as we have shared literally could have touched one, it was special, now if could have only had your your photographic skills, but we got some preset good snaps…..it was all worth your anxiety in the end, me thinks…..love you dad

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.
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