Whale Watching While Pregnant?

As I mentioned briefly toward the end of my 27-week pregnancy update post, we spent this past weekend in California with some close friends. The trip was amazing. We had a lot planned, and we got to do almost all of it: we braved the ridiculously steep hills of San Francisco, hiked along the beautifully scenic Pacific coast, and toured one of the biggest, best aquariums in the country.

One other item on our agenda was to go on a whale watching boat tour. Doesn’t that sound awesome? The chance to see actual whales in the actual ocean.

Promotional photo of a whale watching boat.
Image credit here.

I was really excited about this, and I made sure to bring my zoom lens that day so as to get the best possible shots of any whales we saw, no matter the distance. Not being the type to lug around any sort of camera bag, it was the only lens I brought along, and it was admittedly less than ideal for taking pictures inside the aquarium that morning. But with each shot that didn’t turn out, I kept thinking, who cares? This will be perfect for the whales later.

We got to the pier at around lunchtime, and proceeded to the kiosk to buy our tickets for the boat ride. Right outside the door, they had a dry-erase board listing the types of whales they’d seen from the boat on each of the past seven days. “Look, they’ve already seen humpback whales this morning,” we read eagerly as we walked in.

And at this point, we were greeted by a big bold sign over the counter declaring that pregnant women weren’t allowed.

Looking back, I should have seen it coming, but at the time I kind of just wanted to cry. The ticket sales guy didn’t help. “Just leave baby with the grandparents and come back in a few years,” he said, no doubt completely oblivious to how callous and patronizing he sounded.

The frustrating thing was that there seemed to be no clear reason for this rule. “Pregnant women are more likely to get seasick,” was the first justification we heard. (Which seems like a pretty unfair generalization, given that I haven’t thrown up once this entire pregnancy, and I’ve never gotten so much as queasy on a boat ride.) Later on, we were fed a bizarre story about how whales spew horrible contagions that are dangerous to pregnant women but nobody else — I haven’t been able to find any support for this explanation despite numerous internet searches, and I suspect it’s nonsense.

The worst part is that when I started looking at the websites of the various whale watching boat tours in the area — too late to salvage anything on our own trip, unfortunately — I realized that there were some pretty big variations in their policies. The following companies’ rules are listed in increasing order of hostility toward pregnant women:

  • Sanctuary Cruises – “No age limits and pregnant women are welcome.”
  • Blue Ocean Whale Watching – “Pregnant women are advised not to participate in whale watching trips due to the inherent motion of the boat. We recommend consulting with a doctor beforehand.”
  • Princess Monterey Whale Watching – “For safety reasons due to the inherent motion of the boat, children under the age of 3 and expecting mothers are not allowed on the cruise.”
  • Monterey Bay Whale Watch – “Note: Pregnant women are not allowed on these trips.”

So what’s the deal here? Is there any good reason pregnant women shouldn’t be on these boats? Unable to find a clear consistent answer on the internet, I decided to ask my doctor at my appointment today. And frankly, she seemed confused that it was even a question.

“It’s probably just a liability issue,” she said. Assuming we’re not talking about some kind of super-bumpy speedboat ride — and that doesn’t appear to be the case for any of the above listed tours — there’s no medical reason a pregnant woman shouldn’t be fine on one of these boats. But think of the liability: if for any reason a pregnant woman should lose her balance and fall, there comes the threat of a lawsuit. Better and safer to just exclude them all entirely.

So I guess we can thank our overly-litigious society, and the glut of newly-graduated lawyers with nothing better to do, for ruining everything for everybody. (But that’s a rant for another blog post.)

I just wish I had done more research beforehand, since it appears there’s at least one whale-watching boat tour in the area that would have been happy to take my money and give me a ride. So I’ll just be filing this post away in my “Hard-Earned Lessons” category, in the hopes that maybe it’ll help out other pregnant women Googling around for information while planning a similar trip.

11 Comments

  1. What a bummer! But wait until your children are old enough to go, and take them and your tourist dollars to Alaska!

    I’ve only been to California once, to Apple headquarters in Cupertino, and a short drive up the coast. No whales, but we did get to walk through the redwood forest! Lots of beautiful things in the world to see!

  2. Awww, honey {{{{hugs}}}}. Probably some captain envisioned delivering a baby at sea, and scared the snot out of the others. It’d be nice if they were at least honest though, “more likely to get seasick” is so lame. I don’t see any such restrictions on our dolphin cruises (granted, not deep-sea), so it’s got to be a California thing.

  3. I’m so sorry, Sarah. That’s just crazy that they wouldn’t let you. I agree with Leanne. They should have just told you the truth instead of making up ridiculous stories. Hugs!

  4. Thanks for the comments, I really appreciate the kind words. It’ll be exciting in a few years to have a child old enough to start planning kid-friendly family vacations, although I think I’ll be tempted to avoid sending any tourist dollars to companies that make up rules like this. (Especially if they have competitors that are less restrictive and more welcoming to all members of the population.)

  5. I have gone on a whale watching trip with Monterey Bay Whale Watch with my young daughter every summer for the past three years and was looking forward to doing it again this summer. I am disappointed to hear that they dont allow pregnant women…period! But, I am very thankful to you for posting this so I can make other plans this summer.

  6. I have recently went whale watching while pregnant during my second trimester. On the boat were two other pregnant ladies and a four month old baby. I had a lovely time and the crew knew I was pregnant when I booked. The captain told me it that is at the discretion of the captain as to whether they allow pregnant women or children under 3 yrs to ride. This explains why you witnessed so many different policies about this. The captain told me that he based his decision on the weather and tide conditions. On a clear blue sky with calm water it is a “yes.” On a windy day a “maybe” depending on the size of the waves. On a stormy day the answer is always “no.”

    He explained that it is because in bad weather or tide conditions the boat could become very bumpy and a little dangerous so the crew are not willing to risk liability under those conditions if things went wrong. I went on a clear but slightly windy day and had a lovely time. I actually found the waves got rid of the morning sickness during my trip but that it returned once at shore.

  7. I just went on Monterey bay whale watch today… For the 4th time… I love their tours. So much that I didn’t tell them I am 12 weeks pregnant. If they don’t want to give the reason why they don’t allow pregnant woman on the boat, I don’t have to give the reason why I’m extra fat. Did you see the no pregnant women sign? Nope, I didn’t either!

    • Haha, I love this approach, Kate — if you’re early enough along in the pregnancy to get away with it, it totally seems like the best strategy! :)

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