Written by Reshmi S.
Whale watching is an overwhelming experience. Cruising on a boat then suddenly stopping in the middle of the waters, getting the binoculars ready to see the magnificent creature suddenly exhaling, breaching, tail flipping and playing with their young calves is unforgettable. That single moment explains the beauty of nature and how small we are in front of nature’s creations.
In your lifetime if once you have been on a whale watching experience, you would never want that whale watching tour to be your last. The beauty of watching the whales in their full glory is what attracts tourists from all over the world multiple times.
Though there are many locations where whales can be seen, here are the top 19 places where you can enjoy your whale watching experience to the fullest.
1. Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
Before embarking on their migration journey to Hawaii, the whales enjoy their time in the nutrient-rich Alaskan waters. Many species of whales like Orcas, Beluga and Humpbacks can be seen in the Alaskan waters.
At Glacier Bay National Park, Humpback whales are seen to exhale air at the speed of 300 miles per hour. The exhaled air creates a cloudy vaporized air column which visitors are able to see from a distance.
Humpback whales are seen bubble netting here. It is the process where a group of whales come together and trap small fishes using air bubbles and through vocalisation, they launch themselves up into the air with wide opened mouths to catch their prey.
Brown bear and Bald Eagles can also be seen during the whale watching boating tours in August.
Whale Watching Season– June to September.
Whale Species Found– Humpback whales, Orcas and Minke whales.
2. Cabo San Lucas, México
Every year during the month of October as the northern ice starts pushing towards the south, the Gray whales take on a migration journey of 5,000 to 6,800 miles southwards. Their journey starts from the Bering and Chukchi seas and then the final stop arrives at Los Cabos, Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.
The Baja California Peninsula separates the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific. Hence, this separating junction is the perfect breeding ground of the whales. Cabo is situated at the southern tip of the peninsula.
In the lagoons of Magdalena Bay, San Ignacio and Ojo de Liebre you will also be able to witness whales matting. Also, the whale mothers are seen to nurture and play with their babies here.
Whale Watching Season– January to March
Whale Species Found– Humpback whales, Whale sharks and Grey whales.
3. San Juan Island, Washington, USA
The San Juan Island is the best destination for watching the Orcas, the largest dolphin species and the “Killer of Whales”. Orcas prey on sperm, gray, fin, humpback, and other whales. Here you will see them in their full form and power. Starting from May to September, the Orcas inhabit the waters of the San Juan Islands.
In San Juan Island the best places to watch the whales are Lime Kiln State Park which is also officially known as “Whale Watch Park”, San Juan Island National Historical Park, Westside Scenic Preserve, Friday Harbor, San Juan County Park.
The locals in this island grew up watching whales and during the month of June every year they entertain the whales on the shore of Lime Kiln Park. This event is known as Orca Sing and is a must-watch.
Whale Watching Season- March and October for Orcas. Humpback whales and Minke whales in November. July and August are the busy months as the weather is warm during this time.
Whale Species Found– Bigg’s Killer whales, Endangered Southern Resident Killer whales, Humpback whales, Gray whales and Minke whales.
4. Tarifa, Strait of Gibraltar, Spain
The Strait of Gibraltar which connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea is famous for spotting the most social species of the whale family i.e. the pilot whales. Here you will also find many common, striped, and bottlenose dolphins, migrating sperm whales, fin whales and if you get lucky then maybe some Orcas as well.
The port of Tarifa is the point where there is an abundant supply of food. During spring and summer, Bluefin tunas migrate through the Strait thus attracting the Orcas who mainly feed on these fishes.
This point also witnesses strong winds for which travellers might have to be patient and wait for the perfect and safe timing for their boats to sail. This expert guide on whale watching in The Strait of Gibraltar by Dos Xtremos is an essential read to know more about the experience you will get here.
Whale Watching Season– April to August
Whale Species Found– Pilot whale, Sperm whale, Fin whale and Orca.
5. Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand
New Zealand is one of the top destinations for whale watching in the world with around 500,000 tourists visiting every year to watch whales. The coastal town of Kaikoura in South Island, New Zealand is one of the only destinations you wish to easily see the Sperm whales.
Sperm whales are over 15 meters in length and possess large teeth. The continental shelf at Kaikoura drops into a number of deep underwater canyons, therefore, allowing the whales to live here. Also, a lot of nutrients are found here which supports marine life to thrive.
Kaikoura provides great opportunities to see whales, swim and go snorkelling with them. At Akaroa in the South Island, you will find dolphins.
Whale Watching Season– December to March for Orcas. Humpback whales can be seen in June and July. Dolphins are seen every day. The best time during the day is between 11 am to 3 pm.
Whale Species Found– Orcas, Sperm whales, Humpback whales and Bryde’s whales. Among dolphins, bottlenose, common, dusky, and Hector’s are found.
6. Maui, Hawaii- Best Place To Watch Humpback Whales
Do you want to witness whales swimming near your boats? Then head to Maui in Hawaii between January to March for spotting curious whales swimming near your boat and doing some amazing stunts like sky hopping, breaching and tail lobbing.
During December to May as the waters in Alaska start to drop in temperature, around 10,000 humpback whales ranging between 40 to 52 ft in length start their winter migration towards the shores of Maui to enjoy the tropical climate.
Humpback whales are also the official marine animal of Hawaii. They are often seen to mate, and nurture their young ones at Maui.
The clear waters, gorgeous beaches and perfect year-round temperature in Maui allow visitors to witness the most interesting species amongst whales at a depth of around 100 ft from the water surface. Auau Channel between Lanai and Maui is the actual spot where all the activities take place.
Whale Watching Season– November to May.
Whale Species Found– Humpback whales, False Killer whales, Melon Headed whales, Sperm whales, Pygmy Killer whales.
7. Mirissa And Galle, Sri Lanka
The coast of Mirissa and Galle is the best destination to watch the largest animal, the mighty blue whale. A blue whale is about 30 metres in length and weighs more than 200 tonnes. The heart of a blue whale is equivalent to the size of a car.
Sail leisurely from Dondra Head into the sea. At Dondra point, as the waters are deep it serves as the ideal place for the blue whales and they are found very close to the lands. That’s because the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka harbours “continental shelf” – a part of the continent that is eventually submerged into the sea – and blue whales love such shelves.
You can also witness humpback whales, turtles, flying fishes and dolphins. The whale watching industry in Sri Lanka is unregulated so choose your operator carefully by checking the number of visitors they take per tour.
Nomadic Boys have written a beautiful article demonstrating their whale watching experience in Mirissa, Sri Lanka and everything about what you should be expecting starting from cost, accommodations and the best tour operators to choose from.
Whale Watching Season– November to April.
Whale Species Found- Blue whale, Humpback, Bryde’s and Sperm whales
8. Tonga, Polynesia
Heard of humpback whales? They are called so because they raise and bend their back before they prepare to dive. Spotting a whale is difficult in itself. So how about swimming along with them? Tonga is one of those rarest places on Earth where you can snorkel (swimming through the water with swim fins and masks) with whales.
Humpback whales can be spotted along with their calves and you get to swim along with them. The tropical waters of Tonga are reef-protected, therefore providing the whales with a comfortable breeding place in comparison to the icy waters of Antarctica.
Tonga has around 176 islands and the islands where tourists go for swimming with the whales are Tongatapu, Vava’u, Eua, and Ha’apai. At Vava’u whale watching can be expensive as there are more operators. The best place to whale watch in Tonga is ‘Eua and the main island Tongatapu.
To know about the best tour operators in each place visit The Tonga Tourism Website to get the best recommendations.
Whale Watching Season- July to October.
Whale Species Found– Humpback whales.
9. Hermanus, Western Cape, South Africa
From June to December Southern Right whales are visible in Hermanus in Western Cape, South Africa and tourists from all over the world visit to get a glimpse of them.
A huge festival is held here for whales called the Hermanus Festival. Every year, the Southern Right Whales after they are done with their feeding in Antarctica return to Western Cape in South Africa. Walker Bay in Hermanus is the breeding and mating ground for the Southern Right whales. This return is celebrated as the Hermanus festival. You can spot humpback whales here and enjoy the festival.
The Cliff Path is one of the best whale-watching viewpoints which stretches for 12 kms. At this point, whales can sometimes be seen as close as 5 metres from the shore.
Whale Watching Season– June to December. During September, October and November you are guaranteed to see whales.
Whale Species Found– Southern Right Whales.
10. Silver Bank, Dominican Republic
Silver Bank is a submerged bank in the Caribbean Sea, 75 miles north of Dominican Republic in the Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest breeding ground for 3,000 North Atlantic Humpback whales between January and April.
Tourists here spend weeks in 45 metre liveaboard vessels and with the help of rubber boats get close to the whales to get the best experience. The Humpback whales are seen breaching, pectoral fin slapping and spyhopping at Silver Bank.
Along with Tonga, Polynesia, Silver Bank is another great place to enjoy snorkeling with these cetaceans. The experience of seeing the Humpback whales eye to eye is unparalleled.
While swimming with the whales, with the help of a guide you can also witness whale mothers playing with their young ones, courtship dances and whale songs.
Whale Watching Season– January to April.
Whale Species Found– North Atlantic Humpback whales.
11. Isle of Mull, West Coast, Scotland
Scotland is just the right place to spot pods of Orcas. Orcas are called “ The Killer of Whales”. They tend to kill in groups called “pods” consisting around 30 to 40 whales. Spotting a single whale is exciting but spotting a group of them might just be mind blowing.
Whales from the North Atlantic migrate through Scotland annually. Some whales are also resident in the waters of Scotland.
The Isle of Mull is considered to be one of the best spots in the world for whale watching with beautiful beaches and rocky islands. Other marine animals like porpoises, dolphins and basking sharks can also be seen here.
Between April and October, you will be able to spot Minke whales. In Orkney Isles you can spot pods of 150 Orcas. Other best places in Scotland for spotting whales are The Minch, Shetland and The Moray Firth.
Whale Watching Season– June to late September.
Whale Species Found– Orcas, Pilot, Humpback and Northern Bottlenose whales.
12. Pacific Coast, Colombia
Tourists who love to see breaching Humpbacks along with its calves can head to Colombia. Every Year during July Humpback whales arrives in the Pacific coastal waters of Colombia after swimming for 5,800 miles from Antarctica.
Humpback whales breach more often than any other species. It is a sort of surfacing behaviour (like sperm whale’s spy-hopping) where most or all of the whale’s body leaves the water. Water splashing as the swirling whale emerges completely out of water must surely be an exotic sight.
Malaga Bay, Nuquí and Gorgona are the places where all the main activities take place. At Gorgona you can witness whales giving birth to their young ones and can also see the babies swimming in the waters for the first time.
You get to see other marine creatures also like the sea lion, turtle and dolphin. To get more adventurous do try out the jungle trekking experience offered at the place.
Whale Watching Season– Between July and November.
Whale Species Found– Humpback whales.
13. Reykjavik And Huvasik, Iceland
As many as 23 species of whales can be seen in the territorial waters of Iceland which is rich in food and nutrients. Minke whales are the most commonly spotted whale species.
Whale watching in Iceland is as mandatory as watching the Northern Lights, Glaciers and natural hot springs. If you travel at the perfect time you can even watch whales swimming and splashing waters around the Northern Lights. Many tours leave from Reykjavik City and other locations as well.
A museum solely dedicated to whales called The Húsavík Whale Museum is situated here. 11 unique whale skeletons are there and highlights of the museum include the Narwhal with its rare unicorn-like horn, a Sperm Whale jaw bone the size of a car and an exhibition of the intricate details of ear bones of whales.
A life-size Blue whale skeleton is also exhibited (which is an extremely rare sight). The skeleton is now the length of 22m and was 25m before the spinal disks were removed during the preparation process.
Whale Watching Season– April to October.
Whale Species Found– Minke whales, Humpbacks, Toothed whales and Pilot whales.
14. The Azores, Portugal
Waters of Azores (an archipelago) is nutrient-rich and is a spot to witness around 25 different whale and dolphin species. The main attraction is watching sperm whales spy hopping.
Spy hopping is the behaviour of whales to put their heads up the water vertically to get a better view of the activities on the surface of the waters. Whales spy hopping is an extremely beautiful sight to see.
Tourists can go any time around the year to witness this because sperm whales are residents of the waters. In May and June Baleen whales, Humpback whales, Sei, Bearded, Blue whales, short-finned pilot, orca, fin whales pass through this region as they migrate towards the North Atlantic.
Pico, Terceira and São Miguel are the best islands in the Azores for whale watching.
Whale Watching Season– April to October. Blue whales during April and May. Humpback whales in October. Sperm whales can be spotted throughout the year.
Whale Species Found– Sperm whale, Sei whale, Fin whale, Pilot whale, Minke whale.
15. Big Sur, California
This is one of the best destinations for watching Gray whales between February and April when they travel close to the shore to protect their babies from sharks and other dangers. Gray whales pass by this area twice a year.
The entire rugged Big Sur coastline is a perfect whale watching destination as the site is a great feeding place and the Pacific bays provide perfect shelter to the whales.
Apart from gray whales you will also be able to witness Blue whales, Humpback and the Dwarf Sperm whales quite frequently here. The Blue whales seen here are of 70 ft to 90 ft and mostly are found in the months of June and October.
Whale Watching Season– June to October
Whale Species Found– Blue whales, Humpback whales, Dwarf Sperm whales and Gray whales.
16. Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
Here tourists get to see Gray whales during their migration in March through to October. Few resident Grays stay in the waters throughout the year.
Pods of transient Orcas and humpback whales can also be sighted in hundreds. Orcas are considered to be the main attraction in Johnstone Strait which is located between northern Vancouver Island and mainland Canada.
The speciality of the place is the Pacific Rim Whale Festival that started in the 1980s by the whale watching community.
Apart from whales many other sea animals like sea lions, otters, and dolphins. Sea birds such as brown pelicans, harlequin ducks, Pacific loons, tufted puffins, etc., are also seen.
Whale Watching Season– May to October.
Whale Species Found– Orcas, Humpback, Gray and Minke whales.
17. Hervey Bay, Australia
If you wish to listen to whale songs clearly with the help of high-tech Hydrophones, then head to Hervey Bay, the whale watching capital of Australia.
From July to October every year, the waters of Platypus Bay, Great Sandy Marine Park, protected by Fraser Island is the annual stopping spot for 7,000 Humpback whales who come here to mate and give birth before continuing on their migration journey towards Antarctica.
A three and a quarter day cruise with Freedom Whale Watch provides a six hours sea time exposure with the sightings of the tail flipping whales. Whales are seen to rest, play and teach survival skills to their calves in the predator free waters of Hervey Bay.
Whale Watching Season- mid July to October.
Whale Species Found- famous for Humpbacks. Occasionally Southern right whales, Minke and Dwarf minke whales, Pilot, Melon-headed and sperm whales can also be sighted.
Also Read: Top 7 Hardest Visas to Get in the World
18. Disko Bay, Greenland
The rarest of whale species namely the Beluga whales and Narwhals can be found in Greenland. Summer is the best time to go whale watching in Greenland as almost 15 species of whales visit the waters here amongst which mostly fin whales, humpback whales and minke whales are seen.
The whales visit Greenland during summer from the Caribbean Sea when it is free of ice and rich in food. The waters of Greenland provide a lot of freedom and nutrients to the whales swimming here to follow their fish prey like krill and fjords.
For the most exhilarating experience with the whales going for long sea voyages and kayaking expeditions is a must. Hearing the whales exhaling at the surface of the water is what draws tourists to Disko Bay.
Whale Watching Season– June to August.
Whale Species Found– Fin whales, Humpback whales, Minke whales, Beluga whales, Narwhals, etc.
19. Saguenay, St. Lawrence Marine Park, Quebec
The waters of Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park covers an area of 480 square miles. Many species of whales such as Belugas and Blue Whales are seen here.
The best way to explore the park is by kayaking or you can go for a dive at St. Lawrence estuary. You can also opt for zodiac cruises that will get to close by to the majestic marine animals.
The coastline at St. Lawrence Marine Park plunges downwards for around a few hundred metres therefore allowing the whales to come close by to the shores. Here you can witness whales feeding very nearby to where tourists are.
If you do not want to go into the waters you can stand at designated points in the marine park from where you will be able to spot the whales.
Whale Watching Season– August to October and May to July.
Whale Species Found– Blue whales, Minke whales, Humpbacks and Finbacks.
Feature Image Credit– Caters Clips YouTube Channel
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Reshmi has been a contributor at The Strong Traveller. She is an avid reader, traveller and a student of literature. Reshmi being a writer by day and a reader by night, she loves exploring new horizons of thoughts and loves to go by the quote “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change!“