Whales can be seen near Destin?!? Many of our Ocean Reef Resorts visitors have seen the delightful dolphin that frolic and play here in the glorious Gulf, but few have seen a whale. Believe it or not, it is possible and although a very rare occurrence, some lucky guys in Seacrest Beach recently spotted one! It was a humongous Humpback Whale just a few hundred yards from the sugary shore in the swimming pool clear waters of the gulf. Humpback Whales are a favorite to see on whale sightseeing cruises elsewhere because they like to put on quite a show. They will “hump” their broad backs in an arch, leap out of the water and splash down wide tail flukes just for show. This whale was probably enjoying some mackerel to fatten up before it journeyed back north to Cape Cod on its migratory tour. It may have been in the gulf to mate or birth calves since this is where they come to do so from late autumn thru early spring. All whales are mammals and breath like humans but can hold their breath for usually 15 to 30 minutes before coming to the surface for air.
This Humpback whale was just beyond the coast of Seacrest Beach off South Walton's Scenic 30A during the morning of March 22nd. Jake Ritch and Jake Williams were working on the beach when they saw the giant dark shape out in the water. They immediately paddled out to it with a camera in hand to get a closer view and followed it out to about one half a mile of shore. The whale, which they estimated to be around 35 feet in length, seemed to like the attention and did not feel threatened by them. It finally stopped, came back toward them and then swam around in circles right beneath their paddle boat for almost ten minutes before submerging goodbye. It was probably a young whale since a spokesperson from the Department of Florida Fish and Wildlife said that some juvenile Humpback whales who enter the gulf this time of year will swim close to shore. Usually they remain in the Atlantic. Williams and Ritch were very fortunate to have had this awesome experience since there are only about 5,500 Humpbacks found in the entire world. Only about five hundred are known to be in the gulf. Their previous number before whale hunting began was around 100,000, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have placed them on the protected list of endangered species.
Back on February 15th, another Humpback whale was spotted by fisherman Bob Bennett about twelve miles offshore from Panama City Beach. This sighting was confirmed by a photo taken later that same day by a Florida Fish and Wildlife official who investigated.
Besides Humpbacks, other whales also inhabit or visit the Gulf of Mexico which isn’t all that surprising since it is the ninth largest body of water in the world and encompasses approximately 600,000 square miles. However, these whales usually stay far from shore.
The Fin Whale, which is the second largest whale in the world, can be found here and they can measure up to almost 90 feet long. It is named after its prominent dorsal fin and is also on the endangered species list. Such whale hunting is now banned everywhere except in Japan and Iceland where it, unfortunately, has resumed.
Female Sperm Whales come to the gulf to give birth to their single calves. They measure up to 60 feet in length and can stay underwater for up to 60 minutes before surfacing for air. They go as deep as two miles down in hunt of squid. Sperm whales have been spotted with young calves from time to time off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.
The Sei Whale has been spotted in the Gulf measuring around 50 feet, but you can’t blink if you want to see one. They are the fastest whales in the world and have been clocked at a top speed of almost 35mph!
Deep down in the gulf far from the Florida shore about five hundred Orca Whales can be found. These distinctive black and white measure almost thirty feet long and usually live in oceans that have colder climates like the Antarctic or Arctic. The small group way out in the gulf seems to have developed a taste for savory tuna.
Whale Sharks come into the gulf during the summer months but only get their name from their size since they are the largest fish (i.e. sharks) in the world. They can be seen in deep water near the Mississippi Delta around Memorial Day and head up toward Florida in the early fall. But don’t worry. Whale Sharks are bottom filter feeders and only live on tiny sea plankton!
Although you may have a hard time spotting a whale in Destin, who knows? You might get lucky. In the meanwhile have fun at one of our wonderful vacation rentals and go swim with the dolphins. You may also see them up close on one of the dolphin cruises out of the Destin Marina on the Southern Star who offers discounted tickets to all of our Ocean Reef Resorts guests.