watching is a relatively new amusement in Taiwan.
It was inspired by cetologists who, after going
out on marine field trips, thought landlubbers
would probably get a kick out of seeing whales
and porpoises in their natural environment,
and realized there's actually a pretty good
chance of seeing one of these swimming mammals
during a half-day outing.
Boat captain Lin Kuo-cheng took cetologists
out on research trips in the 1990s, and founded
Sea Whale Tours in 1997. For him, as for other
whale-watching operators, business grew for
the first few years, though sustaining interest
has proven to be a challenge.
Lin's foray into whale watching was an extension
of his fishing business. In a bid to win new
customers, he's turned his two/three-hour boat
trips into the centerpiece of an overall experience
blending education, entertainment, and sightseeing.
If Lin can't provide the service you require,
odds are he's developed a relationship with
someone who can.
When I called Sea Whale from Taipei, I was
recommended a package that included a night's
stay in an aboriginal village, an evening meal
the night before going out, breakfast and lunch
on the day of the tour--and an aboriginal dancing
show. Also, Sea Whale can arrange car-rental
deals in Hualien at reasonable rates.
I opted to rent a car from Taipei but, considering
the slow traffic coming and going, I recommend
traveling by train and arranging car rental
from Hualien. The scenery from Suao to Hualien
is magnificent, but south of Hualien there's
much less traffic and the scenery is also terrific.
In our honor, Lin engaged a former guide, Vicky
Lin, to ensure we understood what we were seeing.
we headed out of the harbor, another guide
called Joseph--an Ami Aborigine--pointed out
landmarks, and played on people's sense of
anticipation by shouting out, " I see,
I see, I see," then groaning: "a
Vicky said that one of Joseph's strengths is
that he knows how to keep customers entertained,
even if no cetaceans are spotted. Another of
Sea Whale's strengths, she said, is that it
emphasizes education. As if to prove her point,
Joseph and Captain Lin then explained that
the fishing boat we were passing was a long-line
fishing boat, and it was after mahi mahi.
We were fortunate enough to spot a trio of
Risso's dolphins; we followed them with great
interest for about 20 minutes.
Statistically, whale-watching customers have
a 90 percent chance of spotting either porpoises
or whales each time out. If the odds work against
you, Sea Whale will give you another ticket,
though you do have to pay a NT$300 insurance
fee the second time around.
Shiti is about an hour's drive south of Hualien.
It can easily be reached by car or scooter.
Sea Whale will arrange a 26-hour car rental
from Hualien on request, for NT$1,200.
A typical Sea Whale tour is two-and-a-half-hours
long, and is preceded by a 30-minute slide
show/presentation given by the guide in Chinese.
Price, including insurance, is NT$1,200 per
adult (NT$850 for ages 6-12; NT$300 for kids
under 6). Itineraries that include lodging
Boats go out so long as one person makes a
reservation (online or by phone) at set times
(6 am, 9 am, 2 pm, and on Saturdays only, at
4 pm) from April through mid-October. Charters
for up to 80 people at a time can be arranged.
Be sure to take along your passport, ARC or
Taiwan ID, since the Coast Guard may ask to
Tel: (02) 2783-7151, (03) 878-1233; www.seawhale.com.tw
Sea Whale is recommended by the Taiwan Cetacean
Society (www.whale.org.tw) because of its eco-friendly
philosophy. There are other whale-watching
outfits in Hualien, and an operator in Shiti.
Ilan County also offers whale-watching tours,
but the chance of a sighting is lower, around