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Scottish cruising on the Red Moon selfie

Cruising in Scotland

By Robin McKelvie.

In these turbulent times the idea of stealing away on a small ship to an uninhabited island or two with just your loved ones has never been more appealing. Handily Red Moon Cruises offer just that and the great news is that they have just started sailing Scotland’s spectacular coastline again.

Join me now as I take you on an adventure aboard Red Moon’s first post-lockdown sailing out of Dunstaffnage Marina last month.

Red Moon in Scotland

The charming Red Moon. * Photo: Red Moon Cruises

The four-passenger Red Moon is a trim, little converted fishing trawler, which was launched by the British Admiralty in 1945 as a general-purpose vessel as World War II drew to a close. She has operated under many guises since and changed a great deal — for example she has lost a machine gun fore and gained a sail!

Red Moon vintage photo

A photo of the Red Moon in her previous life. * Photo: Red Moon Cruises

Today she operates as an ultra cozy small cruise ship, lovingly looked after and operated by husband and wife team, New Zealander Scott Atkinson and English woman Mary Waller. They have clocked up decades of experience of sailing and working on vessels across the world, so you’re in good hands aboard Red Moon.

Covid-19 Cruising on Red Moon

The Red Moon at dock with owner-operators Scott and Mary. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Covid-19 Cruising

This experience and a steady hand have never been more important. On arrival at the marina, Scott welcomes my wife, two kids and me with a broad Hebridean smile, but no handshakes as they are continuing to take COVID-19 seriously.

galley and dining table

Red Moon’s interior galley-dining area. * Photo: Red Moon Cruises

We have the run of the ship, but we’re asked not to touch any of Mary’s cooking facilities in the spacious galley and to give Scott physical distance in the lovely wooden wheelhouse. Our bathroom to be cleaned daily, but not our cozy cabins. There is one double and a pair of twin cabins, which share a roomy bathroom with shower.

double bed on Red Moon

The Red Moon’s double-bedded cabin. * Photo: Red Moon Cruises

twin bed cabin

One of the pair of twin-bedded cabins. * Photo: Red Moon Cruises

Hand sanitizer is readily available alongside wipes and regular gel use is a must, especially when going ashore on the tender.

The precautions don’t alarm us and are actually reassuring. We sail out of Dunstaffnage in our floating cocoon feeling like we are escaping a storm rather than sailing through one, a precious feeling these days.

Robin McKelvie and family

McKelvies on Red Moon. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

As Red Moon is only currently available for use by a single family, and takes a maximum of four guests, we have a great deal of freedom.

Skipper Scott explains he works around ‘themes’ so we tell him what we like and he helps us plan an itinerary that caters to our tastes and the weather conditions.

As a Scot I’m well aware that some of Scotland’s island communities are not too keen on tourists visiting at the moment, especially the Western Isles.

This is the only health board in Scotland not to have suffered a single COVID-19 death and the authorities want to keep it that way.

So, we choose a relatively modest plan for our three-night cruise that keeps us within sight of the mainland, whilst still being able to land on a couple of wee islands.

The 4-passenger converted fishing trawler Red Moon. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Wildlife & islands

Bashing out to sea our COVID-19 worries quickly dissolve as we spot porpoises to port, and then hulking bottlenose dolphins.

porpoise along Red Moon

Thrilling to see a porpoise hugging the hull. * Photo: Red Moon Cruises

As we eke into a deserted bay just off the southwestern shores of the isle of Lismore a massive juvenile sea eagle greets us with a lingering fly past.

The scene is quintessentially Hebridean as we hunker in the shadow of a ruined castle and gaze out towards a sprinkling of other isles and brooding mountain peaks.

Castle Stalker on a COVID-19 cruise

Castle Stalker. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Meals prove to be quintessentially Hebridean too. First up is a heaving platter of boat fresh langoustines. We catch sight of the boat that caught them en route to Lismore. The main is perfectly pink salmon fillet, which we wash down with a local craft ale.

food on the Red Moon

Mary’s cooking is a delight. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Other foodie highlights include delicious venison, plump monkfish and massive king scallops. Mary works miracles in her wee galley including dishes with lots of herbs and spices flavoring the local produce.

dining on deck in Scotland aboard the Red Moon

Depending on the weather, cakes and coffee can be enjoyed outside on deck, while meals are served inside. * Photo: Red Moon Cruises

Our first trip ashore comes the next morning on our second day to the uninhabited isle of Bernera. The revered Scottish saint St Columba is once said to have preached here under a giant yew tree. We walk through the wilds with his ghosts as we make for this tiny island’s highest point.

Bernera Scotland on a cruise

McKelvies on Bernera. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

From here the mists ease for a moment to allow teasing glimpses of Lismore and out west towards the remote Morvern Peninsula.

Scotland's Morvern Peninsula

The Morvern Peninsula. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Onwards to seals & seabirds

That afternoon we make it ashore in Morvern, delving up an emerald glen through the heather in search of red deer and golden eagles

We find them, but don’t see a single soul as we stroll without having to worry about physical distancing for a change.

On our third day we make landfall on another island. Balnagowan is a beauty.

going ashore in Balnogowan

Scott rowing us ashore to Balnagowan. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

We row in so as not to disturb the thriving local seal population. They watch us with great interest, especially the young cubs, as we make it ashore with a beach landing. We wait for the seals to come and check us out as my girls play with seashells.

Balnagowan Scottish cruising

Remote Balnagowan. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

On Balnagowan I strike out for a wee walk on my own and come across the owner of the island. Instinctively I recoil not wanting to offend or worry her. I needn’t have worried too much. She is delighted to see the friendly face of a stranger after what must have been quite a lonely lockdown.

We talk about her — to me — idyllic life on this gorgeous island paradise. She keeps goats and makes it clear I can ramble anywhere I like, but advises quite rightly that I stay away from the nesting birds.

A reassuring return

All too soon that night we are having our last supper.

We had all been nervous about heading out after being shielded away in our bubble during lockdown.

Scottish cruising has been in lockdown too and when we sailed we were the first small ship to get going again.

Red Moon chart house

Robin’s daughter Emma, aboard the Red Moon. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Literally we sailed on the first day permissible by the Scottish Government, July 15. We were reassured, though, by our open and professional husband and wife crew. It was encouraging too that it seems some islanders are keen to see visitors return.

Easing back into Dunstaffnage Marina we have returned with the suitcase full of epic memories that any adventure to Scotland’s incomparable Hebrides offers up in such life affirming abundance.

Scottish cruising is back and it has been a sheer delight being part of its rebirth.

If you’re looking for a heart-warming family-run small ship cruise experience in Scotland, you’ve just found it.

Scottish cruising on the Red Moon selfie

The author Robin McKelvie on the Red Moon in July 2020. 8 Photo: Robin McKelvie

RELATED: Cruising Scotland in the Age of COVID-19. By Robin McKelvie

QUICK FACTS

Itineraries/Fares

Red Moon Cruises have 4-night cruises available in 2020 from £4,800 for four guests all inclusive including all meals, drinks and excursions.

Red Moon is currently only available for single family use with a maximum of four guests.

Getting There

These days there are a number of direct flights from North America to Scotland. Depending on your airline, many flights connect through London. You can choose to arrive in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh or Glasgow. Trains run from Glasgow direct to Oban, which is a 10-minute cab ride away from Dunstaffnage Marina.

Red Moon map

Red Moon’s cruising area.

Tips

Red Moon Cruises offer a Bed & Breakfast option to stay the night before or after a cruise at the marina. This comes in handy for those who have just made a long journey or are about to embark on one.

Weather

Scotland is this green with a reason as it can rain whenever you visit. The cruising season runs from spring in April through to autumn in October. May and September are good choices as they tend to be drier and there is less chance of having to contend with the baleful midge, a harmless but annoying small insect ashore. August is the warmest month, but can also be very wet.

Money Matters

The British Pound is the official currency, with Scottish banks printing their own notes that are legal tender throughout the UK. Credit cards and cash widely accepted.

For more information on cruising with Red Moon Cruises check out www.redmooncruises.co.uk.

Scotland's West Coast

Cruising the West Coast aboard the Red Moon. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

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emma jane hot tub

The Hebrides by Hot Tub

by Robin McKelvie.

I’ve long been a fan of Hebrides Cruises, whose sturdy wee Elizabeth G has spirited me out to the ultra-remote St Kilda archipelago and also on another adventure along the remarkable Caledonian Canal. Her sister, the 10-passenger Emma Jane, who joined her in 2017, is more luxurious and spacious with plush furnishings and fittings, a large owner’s suite and an outdoor hot tub!

(The Emma Jane was formerly called the Proud Seahorse and sported a red hull, before she was renovated, painted navy blue and renamed Emma Jane during the winter of 2017/2018. Read more about that at the end of this article.)

hot tub on Emma Jane

Robin having a soak in Emma Jane’s hot tub. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Over the years I’ve been lucky to head out on cruises through the Hebrides over a dozen times and have never been disappointed. How could you be when this vast island-studded oasis is awash with epic mountains, shimmering white sand beaches and stunning sunsets?

It’s also an oasis bursting with all manner of wildlife, from red squirrels to red deer on land, through to porpoises, dolphins and even whales in the sea. Then both golden eagles and sea eagles soar through the skies.

Golden Eagle spotted on a Hebrides cruise

A Golden Eagle. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises Wildlife Guide Nigel Spencer

Emma Jane makes the most of all this and I greatly enjoyed sampling the 6-night “Skye and the Small Isles” voyage.

The Hebrides on Emma Jane

The Emma Jane is named for Emma who is the daughter of Rob Barlow, owner and Skipper of Hebrides Cruises. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

RELATED:  Cruising Scotland’s Western Isles.   by Ted Scull.

A perfect Hebridean cruiser

Emma Jane is the ideal vessel for a comfortable cruise around the Hebrides. She only takes a maximum of 10 passengers and she earns her owner’s description as a “luxury mini-cruise ship.” It is worth splashing out on the master cabin suite with its separate sleeping and lounge areas.

On my most recent cruise aboard Emma Jane, I boarded in Oban and had soon bonded with my fellow passengers as we pushed out of Oban Bay bound for the Sound of Mull, gateway to the Hebrides.

At the helm we could not have been in better hands as our captain was James Fairbairns, a veteran of years of cruising with the Mull Sea Life Surveys and an authority on the local marine mammals. This knowledge has been accumulated over two decades working in Hebridean waters.

basking shark in the hebrides

A basking shark. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises Skipper James Fairbairns

We also had on board an excellent young chef, plus an ever-helpful bosun and an onboard wildlife and walking guide for trips ashore.

An overnight in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull allowed us a relaxed walk along the coast through thick forests to the Aros Centre, before it was time to push on to our targets on this 6-night “Skye and the Small Isles” adventure.

We eased around Ardnamurchan Point (the most westerly part of the UK mainland) and managed to make the Isle of Eigg for the night.

Skye and Big Isles map

.

Eigg – a star of the Hebrides

All four of the Small Isles boast their own charms, but Eigg may just be my favourite. It’s a dynamic wee place where the locals celebrated 20 years of community ownership in 2017. Eigg was on form offering up a glorious sunset before a large pod of common dolphins skipped by during breakfast the following morning.

common dolphins in the hebrides

A pod of common dolphins this close to the boat. * Photo: Nigel Spencer

We managed two walks on Eigg, punctuated with a gorgeous bowl of steaming mussels at the Galmisdale Bay restaurant.

Fresh mussels on a Hebrides cruise

Fresh mussels at Galmisdale Bay on Eig. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

The first hike was to the baleful Massacre Cave, where the Macleods of Skye notoriously murdered almost the entire population of Eigg in 1577. They blocked the entrance to the cave where around 400 men, women and children were hiding and lit a fire.

Our second walk broke away from human tragedy to enjoy the natural wonder of An Sgurr. This 393m high volcanic plug is one of the most eye-catching mountains in Scotland and looks impossible to tackle from the Eigg quayside. It isn’t. As long as you have the right outdoor gear, plus a map and compass. After a hearty ramble around its back we scrambled up the rocks to the summit and enjoyed breathtaking views out over the other Small Isles of Rum, Muck and Canna.

Eigg on a Hebrides cruise

Walking on Eigg. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Hiking on Eigg in the Hebrides

Hiking on Eigg. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

From the summit of An Sgurr, Skye loomed large and the largest of the Inner Hebrides was our next stop. We anchored in Loch Scavaig, which let us ramble up to Loch Coruisk for a four-hour bash around this deeply dramatic natural amphitheatre on foot. As we eked our way around the crystal-clear waters, the mighty peaks of the Black Cuillin mountains soared like rock sentinels above.

Loch Corriusk

Jenny & Robin at Loch Corriusk. * Photo: Nigel Spencer

Sailing off to Canna

Back aboard, our by now nightly hot tub session benefited from the epic backdrop of the Cuillin as we cruised away from Skye by the wee island of Soay bound for the natural harbor of Canna.

We got ashore at Canna the next day, but not before more superb cooking. Our young chef grew up near Oban and learned his chef skills locally so he handily knew where to source all the best of the fresh local produce around Oban. Every meal was a delight — my favourite dish was the filet of perfectly pan-fried salmon laced with cream and spiced with chorizo.

Hebrides Cruises dinner

Delicious fare, like this crab cake with prawns meal. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

The rest of the passengers made it ashore on Canna after a hearty breakfast. I’d chatted to the captain who was kind enough to tender me ashore on to the neighbouring island of Sanday — the crew are always very helpful in getting guests ashore when it’s possible. This enabled me to hike along the cliffs checking out the puffin colonies on Sanday’s rock stacks.

puffins on a Hebrides Cruises adventure

Emma Jane sets the backdrop for a pair of adorable puffins * Photo: Wildlife Guide Will Smith

I joined the rest of the passengers to explore Canna’s coast before another wee solo hike up to Compass Hill. This brought great views and the company of a nosy golden eagle.

Cliffs of Canna in the Hebrides

The breathtaking Cliffs of Canna. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Onwards to Rum

Our last island was Rum, where we managed to get ashore again. By far the largest and most mountainous of the Small Isles is a brutal beauty.

Rum Mountain in the Hebrides

The peak of Rum in the background of Canna Harbour. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Rather than tackle her daunting mountains (they offer no “easy walk”), on this trip I opted to stay with the group as our guide ushered us up around to the wee settlement and to the grandiose country house of Kinloch. In the Village Hall’s café, we met some engaging friendly locals, a feature of every island we landed on. They wanted to know all about us and our ship outside lying at anchor in the bay.

We were blessed with our weather aboard the Emma Jane. We enjoyed low winds, blue skies and lots of sunshine.

Emma Jane in the Hebrides

The coast is clear from the bow of the Emma Jane. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

For four days in a row we enjoyed glorious views of Skye’s omnipresent Cuillin ridge. Fittingly as we closed back in on the Sound of Mull the wind kicked up to make seeking sanctuary in Tobermory appealing.

On my last night I took advantage of the Emma Jane being moored alongside and nipped into my favourite pub on Mull, the Mishnish. Over a wee dram I gazed out towards Emma Jane. Already I missed the great company, the stellar cooking, the epic scenery and wildlife of those very special isles, and, yes, of course, that hot tub with a view!

The Hebrides sunset

Gorgeous sunset views from deck. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

QUICK FACTS

Itineraries/Fares

Emma Jane has an 8-night “Skye and the Small Isles” mentioned here on July 17, 2021, from $3,650 per person including all meals, wine with dinner and excursions.

The vessel is also available for private charters, which currently account for about 15-20% of all bookings.

Note, people often book cabins well in advance, often two years ahead, with much of the summer 2021 season already booked out, so do look to the 2022 season to avoid disappointment.

drinks on deck in the Hebrides

Drinks are included in the fares. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Getting There

These days there are a number of direct flights from North America to Scotland. Depending on your airline, many flights connect through London. You can choose to arrive in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh or Glasgow. Trains run from Glasgow direct to Oban.

Tips

Emma Jane’s sister Elizabeth G is not as luxurious and spacious, though she is still comfortable, and her rates are lower so she is a better option if you are watching your budget.

After a refit a couple of years ago, Elizabeth G comfortably accommodates a maximum of 10 passengers (8 for individual bookings in four en-suite cabins, and 10 for full charters). She is smaller than her more luxurious sister, but Elizabeth G is a wee charmer, a sleek former Norwegian rescue ship that cuts through the Hebridean seas with ease.

She’s a trusty steed and one who has steered me out to ultra-remote St Kilda. For that reason alone she is a favourite of mine. Read more about them both here.

Elizabeth G & the Emma Jane together

The Elizabeth G & the Emma Jane. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Weather

Scotland is this green with a reason as it can rain whenever you visit. The cruising season runs from spring in April through to autumn in October.

May and September are good choices as they tend to be drier, prices are a little cheaper and there is less chance of having to contend with the baleful midge, a harmless but annoying small insect. August is the warmest month, but can also be very wet.

hebrides is green

The green green grass of An Sgurr on Eigg. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Money Matters

The British Pound is the official currency, with Scottish banks printing their own notes that are legal tender throughout the UK. Credit cards and cash widely accepted.

Emma Jane Backstory
Proud Seahorse was launched with Hebrides Cruises in May 2017. She was bought from an Orkney family, who were pleased she would be owned by another seafaring family. The vessel was built in 1978 as an ocean going stern trawler with twin Detroit 8v71 engines and Alison gearboxes, typical of Norwegian rescue ships.
Proud Seahorse in the Hebrides

The red-hulled Proud Seahorse gazing over to Skye. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

She was then commissioned for survey work in the Gulf of Suez and the Mediterranean Sea. In the 1980’s she was contracted by the British Royal Navy for 18 years, doing survey work around the coast of Britain and the surrounding waters. She was then bought by the Reid family in Orkney and fully converted into a luxury yacht, remaining in their ownership until sold to Hebrides Cruises in 2017.

During the winter of 2017/18 the vessel was resprayed to match Hebrides Cruises’ Elizabeth G and renamed Emma Jane (Emma is the daughter of Rob Barlow, Hebrides Cruises owner and skipper, and works for the company.)

For more information on cruising the Hebrides with Hebrides Cruises check out https://www.hebridescruises.co.uk/.

Emma Jane cruising the Hebrides

Emma Jane at sunset. Ahhh. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

RELATED:  Back Doon Tha Watter. by Robin McKelvie.

RELATED:  Capturing the Spirit of Scotland on the Caledonian Canal.  by Robin McKelvie.

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Whale Watching Tips

Whale Watching Tips

By Raphael Fennimore of Gotham Whale.

This article aims to provide a basic introduction to whales for small-ship cruisers visiting some of the world’s top spots for whale watching. The article describes some common types of whales and where you’ll likely see them.

What is a Whale & Where are They Found?

Whales are a truly amazing group of large marine mammals classified into the biological Order of Cetacea, a group that also includes dolphins and porpoises.

With approximately 90 unique species, cetaceans are found throughout the world’s oceans — from the warm tropical seas, to the icy poles, coastal areas and the very centers of every ocean basin.

Some of the popular small-ship cruising regions for whale watching include New England, St. Lawrence Seaway, Sea of Cortez, southeast Alaska, western Scotland, southwestern Greenland, Antarctica, South Africa, New Zealand’s South Island, eastern Australia and the Hawaiian Islands.

RELATED: A Lindblad Expeditions cruise in the Sea of Cortez.  by Peter Knego.

Whale Watching Tips

Breaching humpback in the waters off New York City. * Photo: Celia Ackerman

RELATED: Whale populations in New York harbor are booming—here’s why.  by Simon Worrall.

Minke Whale Watching Tips

A Minke whale in Antarctica.

Due to the very large number of cetacean species and their truly global distribution, this brief whale watching tips article will focus on only the most common cetaceans which small-ship cruisers are likely to encounter on their expeditions.

Whale Watching Tips: Two Categories of Whales

Whales can be divided into two categories — toothed whales and baleen whales.

Toothed Whales:
  1. Have teeth
  2. Hunt relatively large, singular prey

Examples of toothed whales include the sperm whale, known to hunt giant squid, and the orca (“killer whale”), known to hunt seals, sharks, and even other whales.

Other toothed whales include pilot whales, the beluga whale, the narwhal (with its famous spiraling “horn,” which is actually a tooth), and all of the dolphins, porpoises, and the little-known “beaked whales.”

orca Whale Watching Tips

An orca whale.

Baleen Whales:
  1. Do not have teeth
  2. Use rows of “baleen,” which look like the bristles of a brush, in their mouths to filter large amounts of seawater for numerous small prey, such as small fish or krill (a type of tiny shrimp)
Baleen whales

Baleen. * Photo: Celia Ackerman.

Examples of baleen whales include the humpback whale, blue whale, fin whale, right whales, minke whales and others.

Fin Whale Tips

Fin whales feeding.

Whale Watching Tips: Identifying the Common Types

If you think you see a whale while on a cruise, keep an eye on it. Alert a member of the crew so the captain can slow down or perhaps stop the vessel and an onboard naturalist can help you identify the species and characteristics.

Like us humans, whales are mammals, and so they breathe air directly from the atmosphere using their lungs (unlike fish, which use gills to filter air molecules out of the water, with the exception of the lungfish).

This means that whales must be at the surface to breathe, and when they exhale, you can often see, hear, or possibly even smell their cloud-like “spout” that quickly rises vertically up into the air.

This spout, or “blow,” is often the first thing observed when looking for whales. Whalers famously used to cry out ‘thar she blows!’ when they sighted this familiar rising cloud, which also resembles a puff of smoke.

Whale Watching Tips

The blow.

Spouting Humpbacks whales

Spouting humpbacks.

In fact, it is sometimes possible to identify a whale’s species based only on seeing a spout. For example, blue whales have very tall spouts (over 30 feet!), right whales have V-shaped spouts, and sperm whales have spouts that are aimed forward and to the left.

Whale spout comparison chart

Whale spout comparison. * Credit: www.north-atlantic-society.com

If you get close enough to see the whale’s body, then there are several features that you can look for to try to identify the type of whale that you are observing. Note the whale’s approximate size; its color and coloration pattern; the size, shape, and number of its fins; and the place, date, and time where you saw the whale. For more precise identification later, take photos or video of the whales you spot.

Consider sharing your data with “citizen science” organizations highlighted at the end of the article, including Gotham Whale and Happywhale.

To help in your whale identification, below are basic descriptions of some of the most common whales, including details about their size, defining characteristics, and areas in which they can be found.

Blue Whale

Blue whale

A blue whale. * Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Size: Up to 100 feet, over 200 tons
Description: Very long and slender body; small dorsal fin; blue or blue-gray mottled skin coloration; underside can appear yellow
Distribution & Habitat: Global, but not as frequently found in the tropics; solitary; prefers deep waters
Behaviors: Swimming at surface; filter feeding; rare other surface activities

 

Fin Whale

Fin whale tips.

Fin whale.

Size: Up to 85 feet, over 80 tons
Description: Very long and slender body; dorsal fin present; gray and black coloration; underside white; light-gray chevrons often behind the head; bottom jaw is white on the right and dark on the left
Distribution & Habitat: Global but not as frequently found in the tropics; prefers deep waters
Behaviors: Fast swimming at surface; filter feeding; rare other surface activities

 

Humpback Whale

Whale watching tips

Humpback flukes.

Size: Up to 60 feet, 40 tons
Description: Predominantly black with varying levels of white on underside, on pectoral fins, and on underside of tail; bumps on head; dorsal fin present; individuals have unique dorsal fin shapes, patterns on the underside of their tails, and shapes of their tails (try to photo!)
Distribution & Habitat: Global; highly migratory; distinct populations; generally give birth in warm regions and migrate to colder regions for feeding
Behaviors: Jumping out of the water (‘breaching’); flipper slapping; tail slapping; interesting feeding behaviors such as bubble net feeding

 

Orca (“Killer Whale”)

Killer whales

A pair of killer whales.

Size: Up to 32 feet, 6 tons
Description: Black with white undersides; white eye patches; gray or white ‘saddle patch’ behind dorsal fin; individual orcas have unique dorsal fin shapes and saddle patches
Distribution & Habitat: Global but less frequently in tropics; distinct ecotypes and populations; hunt in social pods; can be coastal or offshore
Behaviors: Jumping out of the water (‘breaching’); sticking their head out of the water (‘spy-hopping’); tail slapping; many interesting group feeding and hunting behaviors

 

Sperm Whale

sperm whale watching

Sperm whale. * Photo: Humberto Braojos

Size: Up to 65 feet, 60 tons
Description: Dark gray body; large rectangular head (1/3 of their body length); thin lower jaw full of large teeth; dorsal fin present; crenulations (bumps) in a line down the back behind the dorsal fin
Distribution & Habitat: Global; prefer deep water for hunting
Behaviors: Swimming; rare other surface activities (breaching, tail slapping)

 

Dolphins

Dolphin Whale Watching Tips

A Dolphin.

Size: More than 40 species, great variation; 4 – 13 feet, 85 – 1100 pounds
Description: Much variation. Can be solidly colored light to dark gray, pink, black and white, or can be a mixture of these colors in vibrant, streaking patterns. Some have distinctive spots, stripes, or scratches/scars.
Distribution & Habitat: Global, found in shallow waters and far offshore. Typically social and found in groups of a few to over a thousand
Behaviors: Swimming; hunting; jumping out of the water (breaching); and more

 

Learning More: How Can I Help Whales?

To learn more about the whales and dolphins travelers are likely to encounter on a small-ship cruise, here are some great resources and very worthy organizations that rely on public donations to operate, including:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Mission: “NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Our reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as we work to keep the public informed of the changing environment around them.

From daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings, and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce, NOAA’s products and services support economic vitality and affect more than one-third of America’s gross domestic product…”

NOAA whale organizationWhale SENSE

Mission: “Whale SENSE is a voluntary education and recognition program offered to commercial whale watching companies in the U.S. Atlantic and Alaska Regions. The program is sponsored by NOAA Fisheries and Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Developed in collaboration with the whale watching industry, Whale SENSE recognizes whale watching companies committed to responsible practices…”

Whale Watching Tips
Gotham Whale

Mission: “To study, advocate for, and educate about the whales and marine mammals of New York City, through Citizen Science…Citizen Science is a movement to include average citizens in scientific research allowing them to make systematic observations, to collect and process data, and provide general support for scientific study. The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, running since 1900, is an excellent example. Gotham Whale will emulate that model with the vast citizen pool that is New York City.

The whale watching activities of the American Princess and other boatmen provide a platform to collect data and make observations. The many eyes of the pubic make sightings more probable. Gotham Whale will serve as a depository for that data…”

Here’s info on whale-watching day cruises in the New York area aboard the 250-passenger American Princess

Gotham Whale

RELATED: Humpback whales feast in NYC.  by Dr. Merryl Kafka, Director of Education and Naturalist for Gotham Whale 

Happywhale

Mission: “Happywhale inspires kinship between humans and marine life through whale citizen science.

Happywhale tracks individual whales throughout our world’s oceans. We believe that whale watching guides, naturalists and passengers are vital to our understanding of whales. Scientists can only be in one place at one time; by harnessing the power of millions of whale watching enthusiasts, we can expand our scientific knowledge exponentially.

Our platform empowers whale watchers to photograph whales and tell their stories…”

whale watching groups

The Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM)

Mission: “To promote the global advancement of marine mammal science and contribute to its relevance and impact in education, conservation and management…”

Whale watching groups

More about Raphael Fennimore

Raphael recently joined Gotham Whale after helping run the world’s oldest whale/dolphin/porpoise conservation group, The Society for Marine Mammalogy. He also worked in the UK in 2019 on the World Cetacean Alliance’s “Global Best Practice Guidance for Responsible Whale and and Dolphin Watching.” The detailed paper is geared to whale- and dolphin-watching boat operators and guides, but may also be of interest to any whale and dolphin enthusiasts.

Raphael is an IAATO-certified Antarctic Peninsula field guide and most recently helped lead an 80-guest “Whales in Antarctica” expedition in Feb/March (2019) with Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris.

“I am a very passionate believer in the small cruise experience!!” —Raphael Fennimore

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