DeFINitely Hot: Beluga Ahoy - Why Whale Watching is like a Box of Chocolates


It is probably the most surprising whale sighting the industry has seen this year: A beluga, or white whale, surfaced in Southern California! A solitary animal that seems to be well-nourished, being at least 3000 miles away from its natural habitat in Alaska. Usually, belugas are Arctic whales, which blend in with their white skin colour, living in pods of, on average, ten whales. However, solitary belugas are not as rare as you may think.

In the 1960s, ‘Moby Dick’, a whale named after Melville’s novel, swam several hundred miles into the Rhine river and was even sighted in Bonn, Germany. Another river-dweller was seen in 2018: ‘Benny’ made headlines in the British and international press by swimming into the Thames and was believed to make it out safely again, after ‘visiting’ Britain for a couple of months. A real star is ‘Hvaldimir’, an individual turning up in Arctic Norway. He was claimed to be a ‘Russian spy’ by the media, due to him wearing a harness when he was first sighted. Unlike the current case in San Diego, Hvaldimir is acquainted with humans and shows no signs of weariness towards approaches initiated by locals and tourists.

The animal in California, however, was described as rather ‘shy’ and elusive when it came to attempted approaches by local tour operators which indicates that this animal is not habituated to humans.

This sighting, which is fantastic news for anyone with a ‘bucket list’ featuring cetaceans, is on the other hand quite concerning and may point to greater issues in the animal’s natural habitat. A lack of food or, potentially, its wellbeing, with disorientation being another possibility why the whale was found far away from home without its family. Maybe it is a result of Covid-19 and less noisy oceans, so it felt encouraged to explore its vast backyard ;) In any way, it is hard to tell.

What this sighting shows is that you can always be in for a surprise when you are out and about. No two whale watching trips are the same. Expect the unexpected. Be prepared to be surprised by Mother Nature.