Tips for spotting whales off the coast of the Sunshine State
Florida offers a host of world-famous sites to explore, from pristine beaches, to the late-night party scene in Miami’s South Beach, to the sprawling wetlands of the Everglades. But some of the state’s most majestic images actually lie beneath the surface – whales. While it’s not always easy to spot whales in this region, with a combination of careful planning and sheer luck, you may catch a glimpse of the great mammals as they swim off the shores of the Sunshine State.
Q: What types of whales will I see in Florida?
A: The Northern Atlantic right whale is the most common whale sighted off the northeastern coast of Florida. In high demand for their blubber and oil, right whales were hunted to the verge of extinction until a 1949 law was passed to protect them. As of 2017, it’s estimated that close to 500 right whales are still in existence, with the number continuing to rise. But right whales are slow to reproduce and often are killed when they collide with ships.
Q: When will you find right whales in Florida?
A: Right whales, which can weigh up to 70 tons and measure as long as 55 feet, swim in the waters off New England and Nova Scotia during the summer. In November, they migrate south for the winter, and, by December, they’ve usually made their way to northern Florida. Some females are pregnant and give birth to calves while off the coast of the Sunshine State. Right whales typically swim back north starting in March.
Q: Where can I find right whales in Florida?
A: Each year, between 100 and 150 right whales make the northern and central Florida Atlantic Coast their home. If you're somewhere between Jacksonville and Cape Canaveral, keep an eye out for the active mammals as they breach and slap their tails in the water. Although sightings are not always common – only about 75 whale sightings are reported in the region between December and March each year – right whales are sometimes easy to spot as they're slow swimmers and usually swim only about a quarter of a mile from the beach. Calves also can’t hold their breath very long, so pods typically spend a lot of time at the water's surface.
Q: Where can I take a whale-watching trip in Florida?
A: As of 2017, Florida does not offer any whale-watching excursions; the right whale’s patterns are difficult to predict, and scientists worry that close contact could cause too much stress on the mammal. Instead, grab a pair of binoculars and head to popular spots for whale watching from land, such as the six-mile stretch of Flagler Beach along A1A highway in northeastern Florida. You may also spot them from the piers in St. Augustine, on Flagler Beach, the Sunglow Fishing Pier in Daytona Beach Shores and the Main Street Pier in Daytona Beach.
Q: What are some tips for whale watching?
A: Keep an eye out for dolphins and sea birds as whales often swim alongside them. You can also identify right whales by the V-shaped sprays of water emanating from their blowholes, their lack of a dorsal fin, their two-sided black tails and the white callouses on top of their heads. Historically, February is the best month for whale sightings.
If you spot a whale, consider alerting the Marineland Right Whale Project’s hotline. Reports give scientist the chance to track and study the whales, which in turn can aid in the preservation of these majestic mammals.