Why Do Whales Come Close To Shore?


Seeing whales from shore is an experience that many people would love to experience.  I was asked recently why they come so close to shore.

Whales come close to shore for many reasons. Pollution, protection from predators and migration patterns are just some of the reasons.

Have you ever wondered why whales come so close to the shore? If you have, this article will clear up these and more questions you may have.

Whale
Orcas or killer whales in the wild swim by a man watching from the shoreline.

Why Do Whales Come Close To The Shore?

Whales come very close to the beach for many reasons.  Humpback and gray whales usually come close to the shore, giving people a spectacular view and a chance to learn some of their behaviors. 

Although many people worry that they are going to beach themselves, swimming this close to shore is a healthy, normal activity that everyone would love to see.  Once you have seen one of these massive animals, you will realize how incredible they are.

Migration

In most cases, Humpback whales come close to the shore as they migrate to their annual breeding areas. When most whales are heading south they are generally closer to the shore.

Whale
Whale

Gray whales also move close to the shore as they migrate giving you a close look at these magnificent animals.  It is a known behavior of gray whales to come close to the shore when they are migrating North after giving birth.

By staying close to the shore, the mothers are able to point out specific points on the journey to ensure that their young know where to go later in life.

In Hawaii, Humpback whales migrate between November and April, also known locally as the whale season. The best place to see them is from the Big Island because as this is one of the places where they come closest to the shore. However, you can as well watch them close to the shore in Kauai and Maui. 

Predators

Females will move close to the shore with their young because the shallow waters keep away some of the larger predators such as killer whales and sharks.

The shallow waters and the waves that these bring also builds up the muscles of the young calves, which helps them later in life to fend off these predators. 

Whale
Humpback Whale

Whales, just like any other animal, have their natural enemies. They have to find some natural defense mechanisms to avoid attacks and protect their calves. Scientists believe that whales move to the shore where orcas and sharks cannot reach, giving the whales a higher rate of survival.

Play

Humpback whales love playing in the water close to the shore, just as humans do. By being close to the shore, they are free to indulge in behaviors of play that they are not seen when in deeper waters with the risk of predators.

Besides their large sizes, humpback whales can do some amazing acrobatics. They are likely to show this by jumping out of the water, also known as breaching, and slapping their tails on the surface of the water, which they use to communicate. 

Traditionally, coming to the shore also increased their risk to human hunting. Thanks to International regulations, this activity is almost non-existent in North America. 

whale tail

When they are near the shore, you may experience their beautiful and haunting songs as they swim past. 

Pollution

Scientists and Marine Biologists believe that whales come close to the shore because of the massive pollution happening in the ocean. With time, we have witnessed an increase in human activity in the oceans, which is affecting whales in deep waters.

There is a lot of chemicals and plastics in the oceans, causing harm to the whales.  Marine biologists believe this is one of the reasons why some marine animals are born deformed and others mentally impaired.

Healthy whales choose to move close to the shore where water is clearer with less pollution. The water near the shore is more oxygenated than in the deep waters of the ocean. Whales prefer to stay where there is more oxygen in the water.

Interference With Echolocation 

Human activities in the oceans, such as the use of human-made sonar and other devices for the exploration of oil and other natural gases have dramatically impacted the brain wave activity. 

Whale

This equipment may be making whales disoriented or even sick. This is one of the reasons that whales whales opt for shallow waters, even though they can potentially beach themselves. 

Injuries From Ships

Today, more ships are sailing the oceans, increasing the chance of injuring whales and other marine animals. Ships and boats now dominate the ocean where the whales once did. 

This increases the chance of a whale colliding with them,  becoming injured or even disoriented.  Many whales that are found beached have propeller marks or other noticeable injuries on them.

Confusion

Whales use a method of slapping their tails on the water, also called lob tailing to communicate with each other.  They also rely on echolocation for communication and in making decisions about where to swim.

Gray whale

Because of many man-made activities under the sea and the incorporation of human-made sonar, whales become more and more confused.  This is a large part of why whales swim out of deep waters and closer to shore, as there is less sonar equipment set up.

Following The Pack

Whales usually migrate in groups which means they can end up near the shore as they follow each other. Whales are social creatures, and will usually move in groups. 

When one of these whales moves closer to the shore, others are very likely to follow.  It is known that in some cases, a group of whales may follow a disoriented or sick whale to the shore, with many of them getting beached at a time.

Whale

What time of the day whales will swim closer to the shore?

Although humpbacks can come close to the shore at any time of the day, there are certain conditions that attract them close to the shore. 

Some people claim that they come to the shore in the late afternoon when most human activities have stopped and the water is calm. They are also likely to come to the shore at this time because the sea is generally calmer, andthe wind speed has reduced significantly. 

Can you swim with the whales in the shore?

Swimming with whales is illegal in many states and very dangerous. Whales weigh many tonnes, and a flick of the tail could easily break a bone or send a swimmer into unconsciousness.

Whale

Whales can attack when you move close to their calves.  Even when whales are close to the shore, it is never a good idea to swim with them, unless in a controlled, designated area.

How Close Do Whales Come To The Shore?

Whales come as close to the shore as they feel they can whilst being safe.  They want to swim in a place which they feel is secure and safe for their large, cold-blooded bodies, away from predators.

In some areas, people have spotted humpback whales as close as 50 feet offshore. 

Spotting whales from shore is a magical experience.  Stop by your local coast today and see if you can spot some.

References

Bernhard Grzimek, Schlager, N., Olendorf, D. and American (2003). Grzimek’s animal life encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale.

Carwardine, M. (2010). Whales, dolphins and porpoises. London: Dorling Kindersley.

Carwardine, M. (2017). Mark Carwardine’s guide to whale watching in North America : USA, Canada, Mexico, where to go, what to see. London: Bloomsbury.

Hadoram Shirihai, Jarrett, B., Graeme Cresswell and Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Whales, dolphins and seals : a field guide to the marine mammals of the world. London: Bloomsbury Wildlife.

Martin, T. (1990). The illustrated encyclopedia of whales and dolphins. Hodder.

Nowak, R.M. and Walker, E.P. (1991). Walker’s mammals of the world. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Perrin, W.F., Würsig, B.G. and J  G  M Thewissen (2002). Encyclopedia of marine mammals. San Diego: Academic Press.

Richard John Harrison and Bryden, M.M. (1990). Whales, dolphins and porpoises. London: Merehurst.

Williams, H. (1988). Whale nation. London: Cape.

Wilson, D.E. (1999). The Smithsonian book of North American mammals. Washington: Smithsonian Inst. Press.

May, J. (1990). The Greenpeace book of dolphins. London: Century.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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