I grew up in New Jersey, close enough to the coast that I could look forward to seeing dolphins in the waves during weekend beach days. It was here where my interest in whales and dolphins began. What I didn’t know (until I moved to Massachusetts) is that it wasn’t just dolphins that could often be seen off of New Jersey; large whales like humpbacks were there too!
One of my favorite parts of my role at WDC is working with whale watching companies to ensure that they are watching whales responsibly without disturbing them. The bulk of this work is done through a voluntary program called Whale SENSE.
After qualified* whale watching companies enroll in the program, WDC and our partners, NOAA Fisheries and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, provide resources for them to train their staff. This training involves learning responsible whale watching practices, local guidelines, and the best practices for advertising. responsible whale watching. Our goal is to guide participating companies on ways to keep their commitment to prioritizing the well-being of whales and have positive passenger experiences during their trips.
Working on the Whale SENSE program ties together two of my favorite things - whales and my home state. In 2011, the first New Jersey whale watching company, Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center, joined Whale SENSE. They were soon joined by Cape May Whale Watcher in 2013. Being a Jersey native, I of course jumped at the opportunity to make the trip to meet these new colleagues. This year we are excited to share that 3 new companies have joined the program in the Atlantic region: 2 more in New Jersey and one in nearby Delaware! These three bring us to a total of 18 whale watching companies from Maine through Virginia (plus another 18 in Alaska!) that make a commitment each year to uphold responsible whale watching practices.
*Qualified companies must offer dedicated whale watching trips and have on-board education resources available for their passengers.
Take a minute to meet the 3 new companies!
Keyport Princess: A small, family owned and operated company which has been running trips out of Keyport, NJ since 2018. In addition to whale watching, they offer many fishing and scenic coastal cruises with views of the NYC skyline.
Seastreak Whale Watching: Best known for their ferry services, Seastreak added whale watching out of Highlands, NJ to their offerings in 2020 and this year will run these trips out of Manhattan, NY also!
Cape Water Tours & Taxi: A family owned and operated company out of Lewes, DE that offers a wide variety of eco-tours, scenic cruises and taxi services. They operate in the Delaware Bay where whales have been known to visit in recent years, plus they see bottlenose dolphins frequently.
We know that travel is not yet an option for some people. Whether you plan to go whale watching this year or any other time, make sure to look before you book to ensure that your company is a Whale SENSE participant! They will be ready and waiting to make sure you have a positive and safe experience with whales and other marine life. Speaking of being ready, make sure you check out this blog where Whale SENSE naturalists share their advice on what to pack for a whale watch!