Whale watching has become one of the most loved tourist attractions that North America has to offer. There is nothing better than seeing a living creature so large that you can hardly comprehend it.
Whales are some of the largest, most gentle creatures on the planet. Their unique behaviors make them a favorite among sea creatures and have led to a substantial increase in whale watching globally.
For those in North America, here are some of the best whale-watching destinations to have a fantastic experience.
California is known for its beautiful beaches, and it is here that you can have splendid front-row seats to watch whales. In California, it is possible to spot them from the shore.
Whales migrate in great numbers past the Californian coast every year. When they migrate, many people watch them from the beaches.
The migration starts in mid-December and lasts until mid-April. Their migratory pattern from Alaska to Mexico and back again is spurred on by the mating season, and it’s this time of year that they are most visible along the Californian coast.
The whale species spotted here include Californian grey, humpback, finback, blue, and killer whales.
A popular whale-watching spot is San Francisco, famous for the Golden Gate Bridge and the incredible number of whales that pass by, especially in January.
From such a high position at the top of Point Reyes, it is possible to see many whales on their yearly travel.
It is also possible to see them a few miles away at the beach of Half Moon Bay, which provides another good place to spot them.
Another whale-watching spot in California is the Channel Islands, with its picturesque rocky landscape and plenty to offer in the way of whale watching.
In addition to whales, the Channel Islands also promises dolphins and porpoises, although whales are spotted more frequently than these.
Monterey Bay is a much-visited whale watching spot located south of San Francisco. Monterey Bay has Santa Cruz situated to the north side, and due to being in the middle of such high-scale cities, it is frequently crowded.
Whale watching is popular here as the tours are usually led by marine biologists who are happy to provide information on the whales and make the experience special.
Another great whale watching destination in Calfornia is Orange County, offering several places from which whale watching is possible.
These include the Newport Harbor and Dana Point, both excellent whale watching areas. Orange County also offers whale-watching cruises to those interested in a closer whale-watching experience.
California is also famous for the exceptional quality of whale watching in San Diego. Between mid-June and the end of September are the peak times to visit San Diego for whale watching, especially to catch sight of blue whales and fin whales.
These species head across the Californian coast in search of an abundant food source at these times.
Several spots on the Californian coast are particularly well-known for their whale sightings, one of which is La Jolla in San Diego. Although most of San Diego is well known for its whale watching history, La Jolla is one of the most renowned.
Its rocky beaches and uneven landscape provide the perfect vantage point to spot whales. In addition, plenty of whale-watching cruises take you up close and personal with the whales.
Specific places in La Jolla, like the Whale Overlook, are great spots to whale watch if you prefer to stay on land.
Alaska is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun and is home to some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere. Alaska also has plenty of wildlife and sea life with beautiful scenery.
Whales are one of the most popular sea creatures found here and can be seen in another of their great migrations from April until the end of May. They move north towards the Arctic Ocean to reach a better food supply during this time.
They pass through many Alaskan water bodies and can be seen from various areas in Alaska. Alaska offers the opportunity to watch many whales, including humpback whales, belugas, killer whales, minke whales, and blue whales. Other times whale watching is possible in Alaska is from June to August.
Juneau is one of the nicest places and has some of the best whale-watching tours. Juneau is an ideal whale-watching town, with access to many areas around.
Whale-watching is accompanied by information given in guided tours, and visitors can also witness the rare behavior of humpback whales known as bubble net feeding.
This feeding behavior of humpback whales involves trapping their prey of fish in bubbles. They use bubbles to trap the fish before devouring them in a perfectly coordinated movement.
Another great place to watch whales in Alaska is Seward. Here, whales can be seen almost all year round, in addition to the higher number of whales than in the migratory season.
Seward is known as the Kenai Fjords National Park entrance and is a relatively small city in southern Alaska.
Seward is a widely known whale habitat, making it the ideal place to visit for some serious whale watching. Seward offers plenty of whale-watching cruises to allow you to take the perfect pictures of these incredible sea creatures.
Ketchikan is another area in Alaska that is famed for its whale-watching cruises. It is a city facing the southeastern coast of Alaska and a passageway to one of the many available cruises.
Ketchikan is one of my favorite places on Earth and a place I have been many, many times. Ketchikan is not only teeming with wildlife that attracts a large number of tourists every year but also has a breathtaking landscape that makes whale watching here even better.
Ketchikan whale-watching cruises are famous for their informative rides full of careful maneuvering in the sea and those onboard being prepared for any weather changes, making it a safe yet enjoyable trip.
If you go to Ketchikan, make sure to stop off at Ketchikandies. It is the best chocolate shop I have ever found on my trips.
I was lucky to live in Vancouver for a while, and Vancouver Island was only a short journey away. Vancouver Island is picture-perfect with its rustic shops, boat-lined harbor, and lack of drastic weather changes.
The agreeable weather often makes Vancouver Island an ideal picnic spot, and due to the high visibility this climate provides, whale watching has become popular.
The peak times for whale watching fall between May and October, when it is possible to see more killer whales migrating towards a better food source than other species of whales.
Orcas can be seen all year round, as Vancouver Island happens to be a whale habitat. Other whales that can be spotted include Pacific gray whales, which can be seen, especially from March to mid-April, minke whales, and humpback whales.
Orcas are especially popular on Vancouver Island as it is one place where orcas are studied for research purposes in the wild.
Various companies around Vancouver Island provide quality whale watching cruises, making whale watching available to all.
One of the places in Vancouver Island famous for whale watching in Victoria offers a range of cruises to choose from and remains the most in-demand spot to watch whales.
Certain spots in Victoria are incredibly well known, like Phillip Island. The island can be found a few miles off the coast of Vancouver Island.
Phillip Island is especially famous for its sighting humpback whales that travel toward the island in preference for warmer water. However, other types of whales may also be spotted.
Other places where it is easy to spot whales include Portland and Warrnambool. Situated on the southwest coast of Victoria, Portland and Warrnambool are where southern right whales give birth and look after their young for a time.
Visitors usually venture relatively close to the shore, allowing for an excellent whale-watching experience.
Known for its mesmerizing scenery and thriving wine industry, Oregon is situated in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. Luckily for whale watchers, Oregon is a predominantly coastal state.
The coast of Oregon is famous as a tourist attraction for the various activities it provides. Although whale watching has a place of its own in terms of popularity, these include hiking and camping.
The Oregon Coast is stated as one of the seven wonders of Oregon, and with good reason. There are many species of whales, porpoises, and dolphins to be spotted along this coast. There are up to ten species and are usually seen all year round.
In particular, blue whales can be seen further out to sea, where there are generally colder waters, while humpback whales can be spotted closer to the shore. Oregon also is an excellent spot to see minke whales, and among many other marine mammals, orcas make a rare appearance.
However, Gray whales are the show’s star and the most spotted species during whale watching. Gray whales are plentiful in the area all year round and can be spotted easily.
Oregon conducts a unique program each year to officially begin the holidaymakers’ whale watching period.
They call the program ‘Whale Watch week,’ which starts mid-December every year, the usual vacation time. Lasting two weeks from mid-December, Whale Watch week is a truly unique experience and is the perfect time to go whale watching in Oregon.
Oregon has specific areas teeming with whales, and one of these is Depoe Bay, usually considered the best place in Oregon to go whale watching.
Depoe Bay is the main area where grey whales are found throughout the year due to their feeding habits, and there is an abundant source of food in the waters around the bay.
Cape Lookout State Park is another excellent whale-watching spot close behind Depoe bay to give the most successful whale-watching experience.
Situated at a higher altitude that needs considerable hiking, Cape Lookout State Park is a largely reclusive area surrounded by forests and facing the open sea.
It provides the perfect backdrop, and its cliff face structure offers an even better view than the shore.
Cape Lookout is found a few miles west of Portland and doesn’t require a cruise tour to whale watch as it juts out into the sea and is ideal for whale watching.
Baja California is a Mexican state best known for its delightful beaches and whale watching.
Most famous for its abundant sightings of gray whales, Baja California is one of the top places in the world to see the massive number of gray whales that travel here every year for the mating season.
The gray whales here also differ in their approach to humans. Gray whales in Baja California are generally more playful and curious, usually swimming closer to boats on tour.
This may be because they are comfortable in the safe environment provided by the sheltered lagoons of Baja. Baja California offers one of the most personal experiences with whales globally, making the trip to Baja worth it.
Other species of whales that can be spotted here are humpback and blue whales. If you are interested in sighting a blue whale, your best bet is in Baja, California, because it is the home of the world’s largest blue whale population.
One in three blue whales on the planet is found off Baja California’s coasts, making the area a hotspot.
The best months to go whale watching in Baja, California, are from the beginning of February to the end of April, the gray whales’ mating season. At this time, there is the highest chance of seeing them in Baja.
Baja California is primarily regarded as the best place by most who have experienced whale watching there. The relaxing atmosphere and the possibility of getting up close with the whales are highly desirable prospects for many whale watchers.
The whale-watching experience in Baja, California, only gets better. The glass-bottomed boats that cruises offer allow sightings of whales and other marine life through the bottom of the ship.
In addition, there are fewer cruise boats around this region due to the natives of Baja. The locals want to keep Baja California as intact as it was before the tourism industry’s success.
Therefore, it usually feels to those on a cruise as if they are the only ones around, providing peace and calm arguably not achievable anywhere else.
The Eastern Seaboard, also known as the Atlantic Seaboard, is located on the United States’ eastern side. The coast acts as the bordering coastline that separates the Eastern U.S from the Atlantic Ocean.
As a frontier associated with the sea, the Eastern Seaboard has sightings of whales and has become a popular whale-watching site.
A high number of whale species can commonly be observed here, including humpback whales, blue whales, fin whales, killer whales, Southern right whales, North Atlantic right whales, right whales, and sei whales.
The best times to watch whales along the Eastern Seaboard are from March to April, when the humpback whales migrate to find better food sources for the summer. Also, from April to November, it is possible to observe other whales either feeding or passing through Atlantic waters during migration.
Fifteen states are situated along the East Coast, including Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina.
Of these, New York is a reputed whale-watching spot and boasts many whale-watching cruises and places to visit. New York used to be a famous spot among whalers, and hundreds of whales were killed each year until recently, when laws were enacted to protect them.
New York, the big apple, is home to various species, including the rare sei whale that can only be seen in a few places worldwide.
New York has increased its whale population since it dropped. The state now possesses a booming whale watching industry that offers quality whale watching cruises to eager tourists.
North Carolina, another of the States along the Eastern Seaboard, is known for its prolific beaches and parks. Whale watching here doesn’t require a cruise tour as the beaches allow high visibility and plenty of spacious areas to picnic while looking out for whales.
Although not with as many whale sightings as New York, North Carolina offers decent whale sightings topped off with dolphins’ sightings.
New England is a region in the northeastern area of the United States consisting of six states: Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
Best known for Cape Cod, New England is best described as a somewhat quiet area, although Boston’s bustling city is an exception.
Maine is the most famous out of the six states for its whale watching areas, although Rhode Island is a close second, while Connecticut fares well for its coastal structure.
Whale watching in New England is not as much a tourist attraction as elsewhere, although it should be due to its calm beaches and desirably high vantage points from which to observe whales.
Humpback whales, minke whales, fin whales, pilot whales, sei whales, sperm whales, and North Atlantic right whales are all seen in the New England coastal areas. Many other marine mammals can also be seen in the area.
The best time to travel to New England for whale watching is from May to October; this can also be combined with puffin watching, which happens between June and August for those interested.
Maine is a desirable whale watching area known for its rocky coastline and deep, nautical history.
Maine possesses one of the largest coastline areas, including the perimeter of its many islands. This makes Maine a spacious spot to have a satisfying whale-watching experience.
The coastal town of Bar Harbor in Maine is reputed for its whale-watching cruises, which boast the biggest whale-watching watercraft in North America.
Massachusetts is one of the more famous whale watching sites globally and has even been stated by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to be one of the world’s best whale watching places.
The most populated area in New England, Massachusetts, is home to the famous Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.
This makes the area the perfect holiday destination with its teeming sea life and land attractions. Specifically, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, situated between Cape Cod and Cape Ann, is a protected Maine wildlife zone that attracts many tourists annually and is an ideal whale-watching spot.
Bay of Fundy
Deserving a place all of its own in the list of top sites in North America for whale watching, the Bay of Fundy is a natural wonder.
It has been stated as one of the seven wonders of North America. It possesses some of the rarest semi-precious metals globally and an impressive collection of dinosaur fossils.
The tidal extremities observed in the Bay of Fundy further add to its reputation as a natural phenomenon, while the whales seen there only make it better.
The unique pattern of tides in the Bay of Fundy allows a range of whale species, sea birds, and other marine life to inhabit this area quite frequently.
The cliff structures and unique cruise tours make the experience all the more satisfying, as it is possible to spot whales from one of the cliff faces or on one of the whale-watching cruises.
Not only that, but the homely feeling that emanates from the inns provided makes the Bay of Fundy a great holiday destination.
The whales observed here include humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, sei whales, pilot whales, and North Atlantic right whales. Only a few of the twelve whale species can be spotted on the Bay of Fundy.
The rarer species of whales that can be sighted here include the blue whale, beluga whale, sperm whale, and killer whale (orca).
The Bay of Fundy is most preferred by humpback and minke whales, which frequently give birth to their young in this bay and are one of the first whale species to return to the bay after the migration before the end of spring.
Humpbacks and minkes are also partial to the bay due to its abundance of food and how it is naturally sheltered with its cliff structures all around the bay.
The peak seasonal period for ideal whale watching is between June and October when all the whale species inhabit the bay from their annual migration.
The humpbacks are first to arrive in June, then come to the North Atlantic right whales, closely followed by the rest and other sea creatures that migrate, such as the White-sided dolphins.
The Gully MPA (Marine Protected Area) is a naturally formed canyon that exists underwater and was developed gradually due to glaciers melting thousands of years ago.
It has been considered the largest canyon found underwater in North America, setting a record of 65 kilometers in length and 15 kilometers in width.
It is located 125 miles from Nova Scotia in Canada and is currently used for extensive sustainable research. The Gully is now a strictly protected marine ecosystem full of exotic sea creatures, some rare, for example, the Northern bottlenose whales.
Northern bottlenose whales have originated from the Gully. Therefore, their resident population is found there; these are extremely rare and can’t be found in many watching areas worldwide.
One of the other types of whales found here is blue whales, which scientists have discovered through monitoring devices to inhabit The Gully during summer and winter.
In addition, there have been reports of 14 other species of whales inhabiting this underwater ecosystem, including humpbacks, sperm whales, and long-finned pilot whales.
The Gully has had a booming whale watching industry since the commercial hunting of Northern bottlenose whales was prohibited, and their populations were restored.
Visitors are usually drawn to The Gully all year round, given that its population of Northern bottlenose is a constant due to their numbers being critically low and their ideal habitat only in The Gully.
The Gully’s rich sea life is due to the currents that move in its direction and bring water loaded with nutrients.
This attracts the animals that have since begun to make The Gully their home. This makes it one of the best places to go on a whale-watching adventure, with many making a holiday of it.
Newfoundland is an island based on the eastern side of Canada. It is best known for its archeological attractions, including the community of the explorer Leif Erikson, who was a Viking.
However, Newfoundland is also one of the most beautiful natural attractions, including waterfalls, fjords, and cliffs. The natural structure of the island and the cold waters surrounding it most of the year make it a frequent habitat for whales.
Newfoundland and Labrador are renowned for having sighted the greatest number of humpback whales every season due to their migratory patterns and nutrient-rich waters.
Apart from humpback waves, it is also possible to observe killer whales, sperm whales, long-finned pilot whales (also known as pothead whales), minke whales, and blue whales. Apart from this, various species of dolphins can also be seen, along with porpoises.
The best time to travel to Newfoundland for whale watching falls from May and lasts until September, when some species start migration towards warmer climates.
The Newfoundland cruise tours offer boat rides and sea kayak tours that make the whale watching experience more personal and memorable.
If staying on land is preferred, viewing as many whales as on a cruise is still possible.
All along the coastline are beautiful spots that promise a successful whale-watching experience, although certain areas like Signal Hill, Cape Spear, Witless Bay, and the Strait of Belle Isle are the best. These are ideal spots to whale watch, as are many cliff faces and seaside trails along the beach area.
The whale watching tours also introduce puffin and bird watching, making the Newfoundland rise tours a total package.
Newfoundland is also one of the only places where the whale watching cruise comes with an iceberg tour bonus in the winter.
Hudson Bay is a bay connected to the Arctic Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, the Arctic from the north and the Atlantic from the east.
This bay has various river channels, including the Kazan, Thelon, Nelson, Churchill, Attawapiskat, and Koksoak rivers. It possesses a few islands on its eastern side, namely the Sleepers, Ottawa, Belcher, and Nastapoka groups.
The bay’s east coastal area possesses a great structure to watch whales from due to its naturally occurring cliff edges that look out onto the sea.
The climatic conditions in the Hudson Bay are usually cold, and the sea below is mainly frozen over in certain parts of the year due to cold winds that blow ice in the direction of the bay from the rivers that flow into it.
The bay is full of sea life frequently found feeding in and around it due to its abundance of food and nutrients.
Killer whales are found more than the other whale species and live far up the north side of the bay. Beluga whales are also found in huge numbers, almost more than anywhere else on the planet, and are nicknamed ‘sea canaries’ because of their collective chips and clicks that allow them to find their way.
Beluga whales live in the warmer waters of Hudson Bay in the southern region instead of the killer whales. Belugas are also seen closer to the shore than other whale species due to their natural curiosity and breathing pattern, which takes them up to breathe every few minutes.
In addition to whales and other sea life, Hudson Bay is home to polar bears that roam towards the bay’s northern region.
The bay offers a range of tours and the ultimately rewarding experience of swimming with the beluga whales.
Due to their gentle nature and readiness to interact with humans, beluga whale swimming trips are safe and adventurous, allowing an experience of whale watching that you can’t get elsewhere.
The best whale watching months in Hudson Bay are between June and September, before the belugas travel north towards colder waters.
Being situated on the far northern side of Canada, Nunavut is a less well-known whale watching area.
The area is most famous for the handicraft of its native Inuits, a self-sufficient community of hunters living in such specific regions as Nunavut.
Apart from the Inuit population, Nunavut is not highly populated and is home to a small number of people. This is due to its climate, which is often below freezing and does not support many animals or plant life.
The landscape is primarily made up of rocky areas and ice, with plenty of steep mountains and little villages that can only be reached by boat or aircraft.
The whale watching months in Nunavut fall between May to September, when the weather is relatively mild enough to allow whale watching.
At first glance, Nunavut is not that suitable for any life to survive, let alone thrive. However, on closer observation, it is apparent that Nunavut does house several different flora and fauna.
The period from May to September is warm enough for some of the ice to thaw, revealing rocky roads instead of ice-covered land, and this leads to the shores of Nunavut, mainly comprised of uneven, rocky ground.
The Nunavut whale tours watching cruises allow sightings of beluga whales, orcas, bowhead whales, and narwhals.
Most bowhead whales are only spotted in the Nunavut region, making Nunavut famous for its bowhead sightings. Nunavut cruises also include polar bear sightings during peak season, so visitors can make their trip even better.
Whales are usually visible only on the northern end of the shore, although there may be rare sightings of beluga whales on the southern end, close to one of Hudson Bay’s openings.
Narwhals, belugas, and bowhead whales are some of the rarest whale species observed worldwide. Luckily for tourists, they reside in the Arctic waters surrounding Nunavut all year round.
This makes any time a good time to visit, except in early June when the visibility is relatively low due to the fog settling down in the area.
Pribilof island comprises a group of four islands situated north of Alaska. The Pribilof Islands are volcanic and also known as the Fur Seal Islands.
They were initially formed by lava eruptions and have since become islands with rich plant life supported by the fertile, volcanic soil.
Pribilof islands deserve a place on the list as they hold some of the best landscapes and ideal whale watching regions worldwide.
The island is home to many kinds of wildlife and sea life, the most prolific of these being seals, after which the island is also named.
Apart from its large number of fur seals, Pribilof Islands are also home to many whale species. This includes humpback whales, grey whales, killer whales, beluga whales, mike whales, and fin whales.
Of these, the killer whales are resident, meaning they can be seen at any time of the year. However, the other whale species go on an early migration that brings them back by the end of April.
The peak whale watching season in the Pribilof Islands coincides with that of Alaska, falling from June to August.
Similar to the Pribilof Islands in terms of geographical proximity and climatic conditions are the Aleutian Islands.
The Aleutian Islands are also known as the Aleut islands and are situated near Alaska and relatively close to the Pribilof Islands. These islands consist of 14 volcanic islands in a chain pattern joined by up to 55 smaller islands.
Some of the Aleutian Islands are considered part of Alaska, while some belong to Kamchatka Krai, a territory in Russia.
The Aleutian Islands, similar to the Pribilof Islands, are secluded and sparsely populated, making them feel exotic and setting the scene for a unique whale-watching experience.
Whale-watching cruise tours from various companies are offered to tourists who take an informative cruise across Alaskan waters and back.
The most well-known islands of the Aleutian Islands include the Unalaska Island and the Unimak Island, the latter of which is the largest island of all the Aleutian Islands.
The State of Washington has many whale-watching activities. Not only famous for Mount St. Helens and the beautiful constructed national parks, but Washington is also famous for its whales.
Its official marine mammal is the killer whale. The whales seen in Washington include gray whales, minke whales, short-finned pilot whales, North Pacific sperm whales, fin whales, sperm whales, and blue whales.
Killer whales are found in vast numbers. Gray whales are sighted on the two migrations across Washington’s waters. The peak season to watch whales usually falls from March to May, although if gray whales are a specific preference, mid-January is a good alternative.
In Seattle, whale watching is a huge industry and attracts tourists daily. Seattle also offers some of the best whale-watching cruise tours to those interested in watching a whale out at sea rather than on land where they are also visible.
Seattle is not only the largest city in Washington, boasting the home of both Amazon and Microsoft headquarters, but is also in touch with nature. This is obvious by the abundant whale watching tours that seem to be the main tourist attraction.
Being a city with a seaside, Seattle has the best of both worlds and offers various themed whale watching tours, paired with watching dolphins and other marine mammals.
In addition to Seattle, the Strait of Juan de Fuca is also a must-visit for whale watching. The tours provided by those at Juan de Fuca allow tourists to get closer to a killer whale than ever before.
The Strait of Juan de Fuca is a water body at the center of the international boundary between Canada and the United States. The Strait’s guided tours allow whale sightings and the observer to spot sea lions and do some bird watching.
Specific areas along the Strait provide better whale sightings, including Freshwater Bay and Shipwreck Point.
What is better than combining sun, sand, and sea? Having it happen in a place as breathtakingly beautiful as Hawaii. Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. entirely made up of islands.
Apart from its people’s fantastic hospitality and the excellent food it provides, Hawaii is famous for its beaches.
Tourists who visit are always enthralled by the number of water-related activities that can be undertaken, including snorkeling, diving, fishing, and surfing.
Therefore, whale watching is a significant event that should be no surprise. Humpback whales are the most frequent of the whale species spotted here, in addition to pygmy killer whales and short-finned pilot whales.
The whale watching season officially begins by mid-April. However, most of the humpback population arrives from their migration to the Alaskan waters by September to give birth and care for their young.
Therefore, the most successful whale sightings would happen from November to May of the following year.
The six islands that Hawaii is made up of each offer different activities, and of these, the island Maui is considered the best and original whale watching area.
Maui is a famous island that is also one of the best areas to spot a whale from the land. Whale watching here dates back a long time, and the island is also famous for its Haleakala National Park.
Maui is another rare place where it is possible to get closer to whales than the usual whale-watching cruise. For instance, it is possible to get to them by paddle boarding or choose the snorkeling option for an even more personal experience.
This would likely be a memory to remember forever, as the humpback whales that can be spotted are likely to be accompanied by their calves just after giving birth to the previous winter. The whale-watching experience in Maui is a magical one.
Whale watching is an undeniably rewarding experience and is an experience that can’t easily be replicated. It is in a category of its kind, and each experience only makes you want to go again.
Something is mesmerizing about watching these gigantic sea creatures in their natural habitat that surpasses all expectations every time.
Due to its currents and the many coastal areas it possesses, the U.S. and Canada can offer one of the highest quality whale watching experiences. It is something that should be on every nature lover’s bucket list.
Whale watching may make you feel small as it redefines size and scale on a new level. Look out for whales on the coast of North America, as there may be one looking at you.
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