Tips for going whale watching

I had the opportunity Wednesday to go on the Star of Honolulu’s whale watching cruise. While on the boat, I noticed that many people were whale watching for the first time and weren’t adequately prepared. So here are three tips to consider before taking your first cruise.

Seasickness

Unfortunately, there is no real way to know if you’re prone to getting seasick until you actually go out on a boat. But you can prepare yourself. Dramamine and Bonine are two over-the-counter, anti-motion sickness medications you can take, but they tend to cause drowsiness, so make sure you get the non-drowsy kind. I prefer to stop by a crack seed shop and pick up some ginger. Crystallized, pickled, dried, li hing mui… it doesn’t really matter; they’ll all work, and they’ll make a good snack while on the cruise.

To avoid getting seasick, remember not to focus on a single point for too long, including the horizon. Keeping an eye on it helps you stay oriented, but staring at it for too long could trigger seasickness. Fortunately, with whale watching, you’re constantly scanning the horizon looking for breaching whales, so you never focus on a single point for too long.

Get a camera strap

I nearly had a heart attack when I saw that the woman standing next to me on the cruise didn’t have a camera strap. She held her camera over the side of the ship to get a closer shot of whatever whale was on the surface. My stomach stirred every time she reached over the side. Luckily, she didn’t lose her camera. But I would suggest you protect your investment, and make sure your camera is on a strap.

I had rented a 70-200 lens and my Nikon D300s cost me $1,200, so I wasn’t about to take any chances. I had my camera on a tripod, and that tripod was lashed to the railing. I also had looped my camera strap through the railing just in case.

Positioning

Unless the ship has a crow’s nest, you won’t be able to get a 360-degree view. Your best bet is to stake out a corner on the observation deck, so you’ll have two sides of the ship covered. And once there, stay there! If you hear someone shout that there are whales on the other side of the ship, resist the urge to run over because chances are, the whales will be gone by the time you get there. There were several occasions during the cruise when people would run to the other side of the ship and a whale would come up for air on the side they were just on. You’ve got a prime location. Be patient, and you’ll be rewarded.

One thing to keep in mind is that, unfortunately, there’s no guarantee you’ll see a breaching whale. For the most part, the cruise will consist of long stretches of scanning the horizon interspersed with a a few sprays. And if you’re in the right spot, a shot of a whale flute as it dives. Despite this, keep alert for the moment when a whale feels like showing off and you get that breaching shot.