11 July 2024

Tell anyone you’ve gone whale watching in Thailand and you’ll probably get some very strange looks.

The kingdom is well-known for many things – the winning smiles of its people, its elephants, spicy food, gay-friendliness, and Muay Thai kickboxing. But whales?

Well, perhaps you don’t know Thailand as well as you thought. Amazing as it might sound, the kingdom continues to reveal its best-kept secrets.

The Gulf of Thailand, especially its upper reaches, is home to over 27 different whale and dolphin species. The largest in the water is the Fin whale that can measure up to 27 meters in length. Then, there’s the Killer whale. Among the whale species found in Thai waters, the Bryde’s whale is extremely rare…. but they can be seen all year round.

The Bryde’s whale is the ninth-largest member of the whale family. This whale can grow to be nearly 15 meters long and weigh up to 25 tons. Today, the total population of Bryde’s whales is estimated to be around 90,000, with two-thirds of the population living in the Northern Hemisphere. So far, Thai marine biologists have discovered 61 Bryde’s whales in Thai waters, each with its own name.

Whale done! A Bryde’s whale leaps into the air in the Gulf of Thailand (Photo by Smith Sutibut)

For a high chance of success with your Bryde’s whale watching, look no further than the provinces of Samut Prakan, Samut Songkhram, Samut Sakhon, and Phetchaburi. They are frequently seen during the rainy season. However, the best time to see a Bryde’s whale is from September to December, when the water and sky are calm and clear.

Throughout the year, whale watching excursions are organized from coastal towns just a short drive from Bangkok. It is recommended that you choose a reputable whale watching boat. Some organizations provide whale watching to promote ecotourism and whale conservation.

Apparently, whale watching involves a long day, with lunch and drinks provided on the boat. It’s a good idea to bring hats, sunscreen, snacks, and motion sickness medication with you.

As you make your way out to the sea, you’ll notice a smattering of ramshackle huts on stilts scattered across the vast expanse of water as well as plenty of seagulls and terns looking for an opportunistic feast.

About an hour into the boat ride, whale enthusiasts can relax and enjoy the open water and sea breeze while wondering how a whale can be spotted in Thai waters.

Like a tourist, the Bryde’s Whale likes shallow, calm, and warm seawater. But anchovies are what the Bryde’s whale loves more than anything.

The Gulf of Thailand is popular with this gigantic mammal due to its unique submarine landscape. With shallow seawater and plenty of food like krill, red crabs, and, of course, small mackerel, Bryde’s whales know this is a place where they can thrive.
Whale watching is a waiting game.

Bryde’s whales sometimes travel in groups of two or three (Photo by Smith Sutibut)

Bryde’s whales generally travel alone or in groups of two or three. You spy a distinct blow – a spray of airborne water – that possibly signals a whale is about to emerge. A silence falls over the boat as whale enthusiasts wait, patiently. Then, someone cries out: “Look! Look! Over there …”

The first sighting always comes with screams of delight. Everyone races to get a good look. The following sightings are even more fascinating.

Bryde’s whales frequently breach the water’s surface, inhaling air before submerging again. You have only two seconds to capture this breathtaking moment. The giant mammals may also be seen rising gracefully out of the water with their mouths agape to catch anchovy, revealing their pink underbelly. If you are lucky, a curious creature will swim right up to your boat.

Finally, after a whale encounter, the excited chatter and cries of otherwise rational strangers explode and they hug each other in joy. All of this against the rumble and roar of diesel engines.

Watching a whale in its natural habitat is truly a life-changing experience.

Social distancing on board (Photo by Parinya Padungtin)

IF YOU GO

Wild Encounter Thailand, a reputed whale watching agent, organizes Bryde’s Whale Spotting trips for 15 passengers only. To keep infections at the bay, participants will have to follow COVID-19 precautions such as distancing, mask-wearing, and hand-washing. A vaccinated customer gets a 10-per-cent reduction.

Bangkok Whale Watching has just launched a  “Whale Yachting” service that offers more convenient and comfortable whale watching on board of an Island Spirit 410 catamaran. A trip with @Bangkokwhalewatching is limited to only 12 people with two meals on board. They say July to August is the best period for whale watching. Cameras and gear are provided at no charge and a professional photographer is on hand, also free of charge. Whale watchers can also swim if they’d like to. Private trips only for the time being due to the pandemic. Contact @Bangkokwhalewatching on LINE and Facebook.

Story by Veena Thoopkrajae with additional report by Phoowadon Duangmee