Sailing out into the warm waters off the coast of Panama, you work to get your sea legs as your eyes scan the shimmering surface for the prize which has been long-awaited. You look back to see the land diminishing as the ocean around you expands. You fight to hold on to your hat with one hand while balancing your binoculars with the other, imagining that first great moment. Suddenly, the long-anticipated call is sounded. "Whales!" Your adrenaline gushes as you search the waters for the mammal you have often seen in National Geographic travelogues or read about in high school literature. There it is; only a lens-length away. The mighty humpback whale. As the whale breeches you feel your heart mimicking the same leaping motion. This is your great moment; the moment that propels you into a love relationship with whale watching.
The electrifying thrill of your first whale sighting is an experience you now realize will be almost impossible to duplicate. They might be far away or they could be swimming right along your boat. But no matter where they are the thrill will be the same.
But let's step back for a moment. Before you even step foot onto the boat that will take you off to this exhilarating experience there are a few things you must reconcile in your mind in order to be fully prepared for your first whale watching excursion. It may sound elementary, but a joyful, positive attitude is the first step. Let go of any expectations and plan on having a great day on the water no matter what comes up. Whale watching can be unpredictable at best and there are no guarantees you will see whales at all. For a positive experience, find a whale watching company that has a high success rate with their sightings and is very respectful to the whales and does not chase or harass them.
Second, but of equal importance, is to not expect to get very close to the whales. A responsible whale watching tour operator will never follow directly behind a whale nor go right in front of them. They will parallel them at a respectful distance. Now, if the whales decide to come close to the boat, or the swimmer, that is a different matter altogether. It should always be the whale's choice to get close to the whale watcher. In the Pearl islands off of Panama, 100% sightings of whales is the norm. During the peak whale watching months, July through September, whales can be seen in every direction. Whales may swim directly under your glass bottom boat and even swim directly under you when you are swimming near a local beach.
It is imperative that you bring ocean survival equipment: sun screen, sun glasses and a sun hat, preferably one with a strap, as the rays reflecting off the water are intense. Even if you do not consider yourself a candidate for sunburn you will be exposed to strong rays for an entire day, even on a cloudy day. If you are inclined towards sea sickness, bring your pills or any of the holistic or natural motion sickness remedies. You do not want to spend your day of whale watching heaving over the side of the boat and missing all of the action that is happening around you.
Bringing a camera is always a good idea; however, whale watching can be full of fleeting glimpses of the whales so if you are fumbling with your camera you may miss their best jumps and acrobatic displays. You may prefer to just observe with your eyes and not miss a single moment of viewing the whales. Just consider what is most important to you; seeing the whales or getting good pictures or video.
Before you venture onto the high seas, take a moment to read up on the humpback whale. You will learn that they are amazing creatures, in addition to their magnificent mass, and your knowledge of them will enhance your enjoyment as you watch them dive, break, do a whale handstand or some of the other delightful feats in their repertoire of activities.
So now you are set to go. A new world of excitement awaits you. Approach it with an open mind, a positive attitude and your ocean survival equipment and expect to be awed by one of most magnificent marine life encounters you will ever have.