Howard Carson , Jan 24, 2013; 11:14 p.m.
If you're on a charter boat and whales are breaching between twenty and a hundred yards distant, the 70-300 should do well. Beyond that distance, you're going to be capturing more water than whale in your photos. Consider a longer, competitively priced tele-zoom such as the Sigma 150-500. In good light, it can be a very good lens for all sorts of wildlife photography including whale watching. The long end of the Sigma is very slow, but that's irrelevant in good light. Bring a circular polarizer.
The Nikkor 16-85 is a very good choice. AF is quite fast, and the lens produces sharp, contrasty, color accurate results. Personally, I think it's the best general purpose/walkabout/street shooter/travel shooter that Nikon makes for DX bodies.
I was hoping that Nikon's first lens announcement of 2013 would be something like an update of the 80-400 VR or a completely new zoom such as a 16-85 f/4 VR, but instead Nikon announced a rehash of the aging 18-35 FX wide-angle zoom.
The newer Nikkor 18-300 is also worth considering, but so far I'm not overly impressed with my copy. It's not a disappointment, but IMO it's also not quite as good as the 18-200 VRII. The auto distortion control update in the latest version of the D7000 firmware includes the 18-300, but the complex edge distortion produced by the lens isn't quite perfectly sorted out by even the current firmware version.
I've got the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 and the Sigma version as well. I like the Sigma better because I think it's a touch sharper than the Tamron and is slightly better in the corners and better wide open. However, the Nikkor 16-85 is just as sharp as either of these lenses, and sharper at some focal lengths too. The Nikkor build quality is slightly better than the Tamron or the Sigma, but both the third-party lenses are quite well built too. No complaints. The Nikkor is slightly more compact than either the Tamron or the Sigma if that's important to you.
The Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX prime is amazing IMO, and can be used to produce wonderful images. It's yet another superb f/1.8 prime that Nikon seems to be able to design and produce at will and at vanishingly low retail prices.