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The view of Frenchman Bay in Bar Harbor.

A Q&A With Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.’s Lead Naturalist

What sets Maine’s largest boating tour company apart? Seventeen-year employee and lead naturalist Julie Taylor gives us her two cents.

Some things just never get old. At least, that’s the case for Julie Taylor, the lead naturalist with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co., when it comes to narrating the whale watches and nature cruises that depart daily from Bar Harbor’s Frenchman Bay every May through early October.

“Witnessing people – especially kids – getting excited about being out on the ocean never gets stale for me. Sometimes, it’s their first time in Maine, their first time on a boat, their first time spotting marine wildlife,” says Taylor, a College of the Atlantic alumni, who previously worked for Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation and Allied Whale. “It’s such an exciting experience for them – it takes me back to my first whale watch as a kid – and I get to see and relive that excitement day after day. Even after 17 years with the company, it never gets stale. In fact, it’s my favorite part of the job.”

But getting people invested in the ocean is far from the only highlight that sets Maine’s largest boating tour company apart, headquartered just next door to Opal resorts Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina and West Street Hotel. We sat down with Taylor to touch on what it means to be Whale SENSE-certified, take us inside her favorite tour experience, and, hear about one particularly epic day on the water in 2022.


What is a day in the life of a Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. naturalist like?

“It’s more than just getting on the mic and knowing your stuff in order to narrate the tours and narrate them well. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a big part of it – inviting guests to ask questions during the tour, walking around the boat and showing them what baleen is, and simply being something of an ambassador. But we’re also part of the crew, meaning we’re there with everyone else getting the boats prepped and ready, manning the ticket window and phones, greeting guests, and helping them get on the boat. Our naturalists wear a lot of hats.”

There’s a whole host of whale-watching tour operations offered up and down the coastline of Maine: What sets Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. apart? 

“At first, people think we just do whale watches and tours, like typical tour operators. But, during those tours, we’re also always helping to conduct identification and research science that is vital to understanding and protecting our ocean ecosystems. And we work with a lot of research partners to do so, like the College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale, Center for Coastal Studies, Project Puffin, and more. We have a pretty big fleet – six vessels in all – and we’re lucky to have the technology aboard to help collect that data. I think it’s great for passengers to see that and realize that we’re an ecotourism company and an important research platform. We also try to support these research partners by regularly talking about them during the tours or raising funds with benefit cruises or special buttons that we sell in our gift shop. We’re also the only Whale SENSE-certified operation in Maine.”

What does it mean to be Whale SENSE-certified?

“Started in 2009, Whale SENSE is a voluntary program offered to whale-watching companies to show that they have pledged to follow responsible ecotourism practices outlined by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). So that means we adhere to certain guidelines when interacting with marine mammals, including keeping a safe distance – about 100 feet – between whales and boats. That distance is even larger – a minimum of 1,500 feet – if a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale is near. And if a curious whale or other mammal closely approaches us, all of our catamarans are equipped with jets instead of propellers to prevent injury. We joined the program in 2012 and every year, our captain, crew, and team of naturalists are required to go through training to bone up on the program requirements, common species and their behaviors, responsible whale-watching practices, and applicable laws and guidelines.”


A couple boards a Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. catamaran.

Does Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. only offer whale-watching tours?

“The phrase ‘whale watch’ may be in our company name, but it’s a bit of a misnomer because we also offer puffin cruises, lobster fishing cruises, lighthouse cruises, sunset cruises, nature cruises, and more. This part of Maine is so unique, featuring such a vast and diverse amount of wildlife experiences, which means we can easily accommodate a wide range of tour-goer interests. It really is a special place.”

Do you have a favorite tour?

“That’s a tough one. While I do love the Puffin and Lighthouse Cruise and our Lobster Fishing and Seal-Watching Cruise because they’re especially great for kids, interactive, and not too long, I would have to say the Baker Island Tour is probably my favorite. It’s unique for so many reasons. 

For one, you’re not just boating out to the site; you get to actually disembark and walk around and tour Baker Island, which is this mostly uninhabited, rockbound isle located about nine miles off the coast. Home to a 200-year-old family farmstead that feels like it’s frozen in time, the island is considered part of Acadia National Park, so you have to have a special relationship with the park to access it – not just anyone can go there. We actually partner with the park to offer this tour, so it’s led by a national park ranger. One of our more intimate tours, accommodating 12 people total, guests can freely interact with the ranger to get an excellent understanding of what nineteenth-century life on this remote isle was like. I’ve been on that tour too many times to count, and I still learn something new from the rangers each and every time.”

When it comes to your fleet, do you have a favorite boat?

“The boats in our fleet are all different to be suited for the trips that we do. For example, our bigger catamarans – like the 130-foot AltantiCat and 112-foot Friendship V – are the ones that go further offshore (up to 50 miles) for the whale watches, while the smaller catamarans tend to stay closer to the shore and are used for the lighthouse and puffin cruises.

As for my favorite, I’d say I’m partial to two boats in particular. I like Miss Samantha, which is used for our Lobster Fishing and Seal Watching Tour and the Baker Island Tour. At 56 feet, she’s our smallest vessel and a traditional New England-style boat, so she just feels really authentic to this region. But I’d say my heart belongs to Friendship V, our 112-foot catamaran built in Massachusetts that we’ve had since 1996. I’ve worked on that boat the longest, so I just have a lot of special memories interacting with guests from the naturalist station. She’s a beauty.”

What about a memory on a particular tour that just really stands out to you?

“Actually, it’s a recent memory, but it sure is forever seared into my brain. Last August [in 2022], we had this one day where we really hit the lottery in terms of wildlife sightings on one of our whale watch cruises. All the variables just came together: beautiful day, fairly calm waters, near-perfect visibility, not to mention, we were in the right place at the right time. Someone saw a spout of water erupt into the sky in the distance, so we assumed it was a humpback whale, a very common species we see on our tours. But when it traveled closer to us and surfaced right near us, I saw the fluke, the location of the blow hole, and the texture of the skin, and I started freaking out. It was a sperm whale, which are very rarely ever seen between July and September, and they are very elusive in the sense that they dive deep and are submerged for 20 minutes at a time. Then, we spotted more, realizing it was a pod of three – which is also rare because they don’t often travel in groups larger than two.

So we got this phenomenal up-close look at this species, which is a type of whale still not as well-researched because they’re so evasive. Then, as we continued the tour, we also saw snoozing humpback whales, followed by an energetic pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins. It was a day for the record books for sure.”


A shot of Friendship V, a catamaran that departs out of Bar Harbor, Maine.

How far in advance should visitors book tours?

“Our tours fill up quickly, especially during the peak summer months of July and August. We recommend booking at least one-to-two weeks prior to your planned visit to Bar Harbor.”

How do you make a reservation?

“Our tour season runs from late May through early October, so during this time, you can book online on our website, give us a call at 207-288-2386, or even visit us at our ticket location at 1 West Street in Bar Harbor. You can even email us

After you book, you’ll receive an email confirmation with a QR code that will be scanned by our crew to check you in when getting ready to board the vessel. Or you can stop into our ticket office to have your ticket printed for you.”

Have More Questions About Tours?

Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. keeps a thoroughly-detailed FAQs page.
More Questions, Answered
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