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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

A Whale of a Time

(Updated Summer 2013 for bus routes and cruise times)

With warmer weather just around the corner, it’s time to think about outdoor activities again that don’t involve bundling layers of clothes and early morning bus rides.  Whale migration season will soon be upon us and with it the opportunity to see these graceful animals up close.  At Jangsaengpo, in addition to the Whale Museum, the Goleh Bada Yeo Haeng Seon Seon Chak Jeong (고래바다여행선선착장)  offers whale watching tours off the coast of Ulsan.

This week, Ulsanonline visited with volunteer “Anne” 보경. Anne was a volunteer at the Jangsaengpo Whale Museum and spent many hours helping English-speaking guests at the museum understand the many exhibits and answer questions.   These days, Anne volunteers in other places such as the Ulsan Museum but she remembers her days at Jangsaengpo well.

Anne has been on a few of the whale watching tours and shared her experiences.  On one memorable trip the cruise boat followed a pod of dolphins as they jumped and splashed ahead of the boat.

“It was like a dance! They were so graceful” Anne says of the pod of dolphins. “It was beautiful.”

The Whale Watching tours are a fine example of ecologically sound tourism that can be exciting and invigorating. My own experiences with whale watching was quite a fluke (pardon the pun) as we sailed 50 meters behind a group of 3 gray whales as they made their way northward, blowing air through their blowholes and then showing their enormous tails on the next downward dive. It was thrilling to be near these enormous animals in their natural environment.

The Whale Watching tour boat, adjacent to the Jangsaengpo Whale Museum

Off the Korean coast, Minke whales are frequently spotted, although seeing dolphins is another possibility on the tour.  Some excursions, however, are not so lucky. Not all trips result in sightings of whales or dolphins, but such is the way of things when dealing with nature’s unpredictability.  Your best chance for whale sighting are between July and October when migration peaks. Dolphin migration is less well understood and spottings are  even more rare. Anne says that only 0.1% of the trips get to see a pod of dolphins.

However, if just getting out on the water is enough, then there are evening cruises on Saturday nights around the bay area to see Ulsan city at night. (See bottom of article for sailing times and ticket prices.)

The Whale Watching tours leave from the next to the whale museum on Saturdays, Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, April through October, for a 3-hour tour.

Typical routes of the Ulsan Whale watching tour as well as from Goryeongpo near Pohang.

Before we finished our interview, Anne made sure  to point out that many Koreans understand that killing and eating whales seems barbarian to many foreigners.  She says to please be understanding of Koreans in that it is part of their heritage and culture. And although other countries have banned whaling, it was only after many years of relentlessly hunting whales to near extinction that they banned it. So don’t be so judgmental of Koreans when most of your own countries have engaged in similar behavior, and sometimes even more barbaric behavior. Anne points out that in the later part of the 19th century, American whalers killed Sperm whales by the 1000s and took only their tongues and the oil, discarding the rest. Koreans, meanwhile, killed them for food to sustain themselves and used as much of the whale as possible.

Prices for the tour are 20,000 per adult, 15,000 for seniors (65+) and 10,000 won per child (4 – 12, under 4’s are free). However, if you organize a group of 20 or more people, prices go down to 15,000 and 7,000.  Cameras are fine, but when the dolphins and whales are around, please be sure to stow your flash so you don’t freak the animals out.

If you’re on a cruise that doesn’t happen to come across any whales or dolphins, you can get a stamp on your ticket that will entitle you to either free entry to the Whale Museum, or 40% of the Dolphin Experience Aquarium (valid for 1 month after your trip).

To get to Jangsaengpo, take bus # 406, 246 or 256 to the Whale Museum. Whale watching tours are immediately adjacent to the museum. Tickets can be purchased on site, but can also be purchased online, via the city’s Ulsan Namgu site, . You need to bring your passport and alien registration card, address and phone number to register with the Coast Guard when buying your ticket. Call 052-226-3406/7 for more information. The Whale Museum is pinned on the Interactive Map.

Sailing Schedule:

The boats sail April – October, on Saturdays, Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Saturday – 13:00 – 16:00 – 3 hour whale watching tour   /  19:00 – 21:00 – 2 hour night view cruise

Sunday – 10:00 – 13:00  /  14:30 – 17:30 – 3 hour whale watching tours

Wednesday/Thursday – 10:00 – 13:00 – 3 hour whale watching tours

Whale Watching Tickets: Adults 20,000, Seniors (65+) 15,000, Children (4-12) 10,000, Under 4 years old – free

Night View Cruise Tickets: Adults 15,000, Seniors (65+) 11,250, Children (4-12) 7,000, Under 4 years old – free