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It’s No Fluke: One Unexpected Tip for Whale Watching

Whale watching can be the most exhilarating way to spend a day of vacation, or a sunburn-inducing time-suck that’s more aggravating than fulfilling.

Don’t blame the whales, of course. They’re not there to entertain you.

I’ve done more than my fair share of whale watching, and perhaps even a share for you as well. My wife is a marine-biologist-turned-travel-agent-turned-baker, so when we’re in a location that offers whale watching, we’re usually quick to jump onboard the nearest boat, from the Jersey Shore (yep, there are humpbacks out there) to Maui (where it’s now peak season for fluke-peeping).

So when I came across an item on the travel website Jaunted purporting to offer “Five Tips for Getting the Most from Going Whale Watching,” I had to take a gander. Suck down some Dramamine? Fine. Lower your expectations? Sure. Bring binoculars? Whatever.

All good tips, really. But here’s one admonition it didn’t include: Leave your camera at home. Okay, you can bring it with you, but don’t plan on using it. I know every budding photographer wants to capture Moby Dick breaching the briny surf, but you know what? You may miss the Big Moment.

I learned this the hard way. Ten years ago on the Oregon coast, my wife and I were whale watching in a tiny boat that was being buffeted by high seas. Our guide, a young guy who looked suspiciously like the Gorton’s Fisherman, expertly navigated out to what he said were prime whale haunts, then told us we we wouldn’t go in until we saw one. As the sea threw us around the boat, I clutched my camera, waiting for the Big Moment. Finally, the captain told us to look to the north, and I grabbed my camera, started to hold it up to my eyes … and completely missed the beast surfacing a few yards away. I’ll never forget what the kid said to me: “Put the camera away.”

Since then, we’ve probably been whale watching a dozen times, and each time I’ve put the camera away. In Maui, there were so many Big Moments (read: whales flopping out of the water all around us) that I wished, for a second, I’d brought my Nikon. So I asked another passenger if he could e-mail me some of his best shots.

Sure enough, a week later he sent me 10 photos, all of them either blurry or mere fragments of the actual event. Heck, I could have done that.

— written by John Deiner

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