There are several Great Lakes cruises available that center on whale watching. One of these is in the Chicago area offering cruises on Lake Michigan; the other is on the East Coast of the US offering cruises in the St. Lawrence Seaway which connects to the Atlantic Ocean and is technically a part of the Great Lakes. Several people have asked recently if it is possible to actually see whales on either of these cruises.

Here is the scoop. The St. Lawrence River is over 700 miles long from the end of Lake Ontario to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which opens into the Atlantic Ocean. West of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Great Lakes stretch for many more hundreds of miles, and contain a wealth of aquatic life in a wide variety of mammals, fish, and plants. This system of Lakes is unbelievably large, containing 1/5 of the world’s freshwater. The key at this point is to think of fresh water.

Beluga whales are known to migrate along the Atlantic coast and have been seen in the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. So whale watching tours on the extreme east end of the Great Lakes may in fact be productive at certain times of the year when whales are migrating. But, how about Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, do Beluga whales or any whales for that matter, migrate to the west end of the Great Lakes?

Archaeologists have found whale bones in the Great Lakes region that appear to have been deposited there millions of years ago. And the presence of Beluga whales in the St. Lawrence Seaway would tend to indicate that whales may migrate further west into the Great Lakes.

To confuse the matter further there are a number of websites that show pictures of whales and claim those whales were photographed while frolicking in Lake Michigan. There are even individuals who claimed to have seen whales in Lake Michigan while on Great Lakes cruises.

There are enough of these claims to be convincing even to some of the natives of the region who may be unfamiliar with the Lakes despite their proximity to them. But, the real truth is that none of these claims are true. Sadly, there are no whales living in the western Great Lakes, nor has there ever been. All of these sites are simply pulling your leg.

On the other hand, in the case of ‘truth-may-be-stranger-than-fiction, ’ there are several credible reports of alligators in the western Great Lakes. Most of these have been found in the area of Chicago, and the last one captured was about 3 1/2 feet long. It was found in a river by Chicago that feeds the Great Lakes. It is believed that it was released into the Lakes as a pet that had outgrown its owner’s ability to care for it. (Unfortunately, releasing such an animal into an environment like the Great Lakes usually results in a slow death caused by the cold of the average winter. So, please don’t do this.)

There have also been reports of sharks seen swimming up the River near Chicago. I’ve been unable to find any confirmed sightings, but I believe it is possible since the Great Lakes are connected to the upper end of the Mississippi River, and sharks have been known to swim many miles upstream. However, this would be a very rare occurrence, as sharks like whales, are saltwater creatures in the Great Lakes are freshwater.

If you’re planning a Great Lakes cruise, and hoping to see whales, I’m afraid you might be slightly disappointed. But whales or no, the Lakes are a marvelous place to tour and one of the most beautiful regions on earth.

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