Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Thailand's Wonderful Whales

Whale Watching in Thailand is actually far better than one might think.  A day in the Gulf with Thailand's own Bryde's Whales is a great wildlife experience!

Whale Watching in Thailand
October 2014

We’ve been living in Thailand now for going on two years, and we consider ourselves to be pretty enthusiastic and productive wildlife watchers. We’ve spent time in some of Thailand’s most wild and spectacular natural areas photographing birds, mammals, reptiles and other wonderful life forms found here. But when I heard that there was a company offering whale-watching trips just outside of Bangkok, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical. I mean, whales!? Really?

Well last weekend we finally hooked up with Wild Encounter Thailand and their operator, “Tour” and spent an amazing day out on the Gulf of Thailand photographing and spending time with Thailand’s very own amazing Bryde’s Whales. And not only did we spot at least six individual whales, we witnessed some of the most impressive cetacean behavior I have ever seen in my wildlife watching career.

Watching these great leviathans feed on the bounty of sardines and anchovies in the waters of the Gulf of Siam is something we will not soon forget. The giant whales gulping hundreds of kilograms of their favorite prey with the terns darting in and out of the whales’ giant jaws was spectacular. The feeding frenzies were exciting and dramatic. Watching the lucky few sardines escape the giant jaws was captivating.

The Bryde’s whales were only part of the wildlife show for our trip in the gulf. We counted hundreds of birds from many species such as crested, whiskered and little terns as well as Brahminy kites and much more making a living in the gulf ecosystem. But my personal highlight along side the whales was the small pod of Irrawaddy Dolphins we spotted as we were leaving the Ban Taboon harbor! What a treat it was seeing one of the world’s most endangered marine mammals in what remains of its habitat.

Our day spent with Wild Encounter Thailand was very well spent and I cannot recommend it enough – definitely a MUST DO while you are looking for things to do in Bangkok!


Wild Encounter Thailand

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Whales of Thailand

Bryde's Whale (Balaenopter edeni)

Bryde's Whale approaching our vessel closely in the Gulf of Siam near Ban Taboon.

Irrawady Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris)

An extremely rare Irrawady Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) photographed by Jirayul "Tour" Ekkul from Wild Encounter Thailand.  We spotted several during our tour but none of them allowed images like this, so here our Tour's images of this incredible rare and endangered cetacean species.

Our Route for the Day

Thanks to our travelmate, Bill Schoonover, for the route of our whale watching expedition.

Here are some images and impressions from our day in the gulf:

Bryde's Whale "lunge feeding" in the Gulf. 

As the whale opened is jaws and allowed the anchovie to settle in his gullet, he would slowly spin in circles due to the movement of his fluke below.

On the way back down!

Anchovies leaping to safefy....well, at least some of them.....

The terns took full advantage of the leaping anchovies and the chaos.

"Got anything to share?"

Almost full!

Bryde's Whale

Bryde's Whale


A small Bryde's Whale coming up to exhale.

All tolled, we spotted at least six individual whales this day, all in pairs like this.

Bryde's Whale surfacing.

Now there are three species of Bryde's Whale.  Our species of the day was (Balaenoptera edeni) as it had multiple ridges on the rostrum as seen here.

A graceful pair of Bryde's Whales passing our vessel.

Bryde's Whale dorsal fin.

Going a little deeper....

Bryde's Whale

In the later part of our day with the whales, the feeding started in full force.  We spotted whales in all directions feeding simultaneously!  It was one of those rare moments in wildlife photography - "Where do I point the camera first!?"

Nice shot Som!

Bryde's Whale

Several of these whales had a blotched skin, possibly due to fungal infections, diatoms or TSD (Tattoo Skin Disease), a pox virus.

Lunge feeding in the Gulf

Spin, spin, spin

Tour told us that he has seen terns swallowed by the whales but they are generally released on the next lunge....


Nice full body shot, Som! 


On their way to who knows where...

There was one other vessel with watchers.  Two companies seem to have the market in the Gulf currently.

Our team enjoying a distant sighting.

Whiskered Terns coming in for a quick snack of anchovies.

Whiskered Tern resting on some debris.

Crested Terns were also common on our voyage.

Crested Tern in Ban Taboon Harbor

Trash and debris was very common in the Gulf.  It''s a wonder the whales even stay here....

Whiskered Tern in flight...

Brahminy Kite in Ban Taboon.

Birds of Prey were actually pretty common along the shore and even a few out deeper at sea.

Sea Jellies were very common in the waters of the Gulf this time of year.

Although I am definitely no expert on little glass fish like these, I think these are Anchovies.  We cruised through many kilometers of waters that seemed to be filled with these little fish.

In spite of all the trash in the water, there actually seems to be a food chain after all!


Ban Taboon Harbor, Petchaburi

Like father, like son....

Our Whale Watching Team!

The lovely Schoonover family joined us this day.

Whale watching from the "top"!

Great day!

We topped off the day with some awesome Ban Taboon seafood....WOW!

Cokie and Somie....A little sunburned....

Our day ended with some of the more spectacular cloud formations I had ever seen in Thailand...

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Whales of Thailand

Hey!  We made the popular press with our whale expedition!!!!


Here's another...The New York Post!!!

(Link Here)


It even made The Daily Mail UK!


And the Euro Times even featured us in their article!


And even in China!  (Link here)



And another....(link)


NH UK....

And some site named Natjaran....(Link Here)

And an Armenian site named "Tert"....(Link Here)

And the "UK Express"...(Link Here)

AvaxNews....(Link Here)