Top 10 places in the world for whale watching

The mysterious behaviours and complex curiosity of whales have intrigued humans for centuries, with their lamenting song coupled with an elegant dance. The migration pattern of whales brings seasonal opportunities across the world to spot whales dancing in their natural habitat – the long journey taken by the Pacific Gray whale from Siberia and Alaska down to the warmer Baja Peninsular, Mexico, is the longest mammal migration on earth spanning 6,000 miles. Take a look at our list of top 10 places to watch whales and catch these majestic creatures on their long voyage.

Seattle, USA

Take a boat from Seattle past Whidbey Island, Deception Pass and finally up to San Juan Islands close to Vancouver Island for ultimate Orca spotting seas. Orcas Island in San Juan is named the gem of the islands because it is a paradise for nature lovers. Transicent orcas can sometimes be seen hunting habour seals and porpoises and there’s also the chance to see Minke, Gray and Humpback whales from mid-May to mid-October.

Seattle

Kaikoura, New Zealand

Deep water at Kaikoura combined with the mixing of warm and cold currents forces nutrients to the surface, meaning whales can be easily spotted in their feeding ground. At this ecotourism centre you are likely to spot Orca (December to March), Humpback whales (June and July), occasional pods of Pilot whales and even Blue whale (June to September). And what’s more, the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin, Hector’s dolphin, only resides in New Zealand’s waters. Board a boat or take a flight to see the whales frolicking around you.

New Zealand

Maui, Hawaii

Every winter between November and April, visitors have the chance to get a glimpse of the state’s official marine animal, the Humpback whale, in their migration from the Northern Pacific. The population of the most animated of the whale family, often seen breaching, sky hopping and tail lobbing, is in danger of decline with only 800 individuals left in the central coast. The number one watering hole in the tropical paradise of Hawaii is Maui Island and more specifically off the shores of Wailea, Kihei, Lahaina, and Ka’anapal. Clear waters surrounding the island means there is visibility of at least 100 feet below the surface so the marine dancers can be easily seen.

Hawaii

Hermanus, South Africa

There’s no need to even step onto a boat in Hermanus in Walker Bay, because a stretch of 7 mile long coastal walkway equipped with benches, telescopes and informative plaques means you can easily see whales meandering off the coast. The warm shallow waters of the ‘Riviera of the South’ attract the majestic Southern right whale from June to November on the way to its mating and breeding grounds. The annual Hermanus Whale Festival in late September and early October attracts over 130,000 visitors to the town to commemorate the appearance of the magnificent creatures in this eco-art festival.

South Africa

Big Sur, California

Rich feeding grounds coupled with the sheltered bays of the Pacific guarantee spectacular whale watching opportunities along the rugged Big Sur coastline. Gray, Humpback and Blue whales and even the elusive Dwarf Sperm whale frequent the area, each with different migration patterns. The world’s entire population of the Gray whale pass by the area twice a year and can be most easily seen between February and April when they travel close to the shore to protect their young from sharks and killer whales. The 70 to 90ft Blue whale is most prevalent between June and October especially when krill volumes are high.

California

Galle, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has crept on the whale watching map in recent years largely thanks to British marine biologist Charles Anderson. In 1999, he proposed that there was an annual migration of Blue and Sperm whales between the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, indicating that Sri Lanka is on the route of a great cetacean migration. Just off Dondra Point, deep waters of 1km are an ideal playground for Blue whales, Sperm whales and Long-snouted Spinner dolphins, with high chance of sightings between November and April.

Sri Lanka

Husavik, Iceland

One of Iceland’s best kept secrets is in the north. The rugged volcanic landscapes and black sand beaches of this untouched part of Iceland are worth a visit alone, but the icy Atlantic sea has really captivated us with frequent sightings of minke whale, along with orcas, blue whales and seals. Embark on a whale watching trip in Husavik between May – August for the best chance of spotting the whales.

Iceland

Los Cabos, Mexico

A mecca for all whales, this is the final stop on a 6,000 mile journey for the migrating Grays. You’ll see whales mating and mothers nursing and playing with their young in the protected shallow lagoons of San Ignacio, Magdalena Bay and Ojo de Liebre. Their arrival in Baja California and the Sea of Cortez in January to April coincides with peak tourist season in near-perfect year round weather for a holiday with the perfect combination of relaxation and marine adventure.

Mexico

Quebec, Canada

The stunning landscapes of Quebec are home to two types of whale that are normally extremely rare, the North Atlantic right whale and the Beluga whale. Distinct for its smiling white face and fondness of swimming with its head popped up, the Beluga whale can be spotted voyaging up the St. Lawrence River. Head to Percé or Baie Ste-Catherine to come face-to-face with the inquisitive Minke, Humpback and Blue whale. Inflatable dinghies are the vehicle of choice for even closer encounters with the marine life.

Canada

The Azores, Portugal

The isolated chain of 9 stunning beautiful volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean welcomes 20 species of cetaceans throughout the year. Waters between Faial, Pico, and São Jorge have abundant fish supplies and attract the migrating Blue whale, turtles and spotted and striped dolphins between April and September. Whereas Sperm whales and several species of dolphin reside there all year round.  You can even partake in controlled swimming with the mammals in the area if watching from the boat isn’t close enough.

Azores

Tom Marchant is Co-founder of Black Tomato.

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Comments (11)

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  1. Sabrina says:

    I enjoyed reading your article! Another excellent place to go whale watching it Puerto Vallerta in Mexico. Humpback whales migrate to their feeding grounds along the Pacific coast to the Sea of Cortez starting in November. Sometimes they come so close to Puerto Vallerta that you can get a good view of them from land. To see newborn baby Humpback whales, be sure to visit in January.

  2. Whale watching is one of the most exciting activities for people who love seas… I have never watched a whale… and that is why vising one or more of the places in this list will always be in my list…

  3. Al Milukas says:

    A less exotic location, but nonetheless great for whale watching, is off the coast off Cape Cod, MA from Provincetown! Literally 15 minutes from the dock, we saw dozens of humpbacks!

  4. Ross Clarke says:

    Great list.

    I was at the Hermanus whale festival last year and we had several whales playing not far from the shore. Very beautiful creatures.

  5. David says:

    You forgot Newfoundland & Labrador! Communities like Twillingate, Trinity, Petty Harbour & St. Anthony (among many others) are prime whale-watching locations. As someone born & raised in the province, I can vouch for how amazing the opportunities are there!

  6. Racheal Christian says:

    I was surprised to not see two of the worlds most famous whale watching locations; Eden in NSW and The Great Sandy Straights in QLD, both in Australia. I was a whale watching guide for a long time and Eden,is classed as one of the best. It is where mothers come to rest with their calves. You do not need to go on a boat they come in close to shore. I used to live in Eden and we would watch the whales from our balcony. Eden is home to the famous Whale Festival and most famous killer whale story – The Killers of Eden. The story of a pod of Killer Whales led by the infamous ‘Old Tom’. You can visit the Eden Killer Whale museum and see him. Interesting fact, he is the only killer whale skeleton on display in the southern hemisphere. The other places are great whale watching locations, although whales are so common and easy to see in Eden between early September and late November that sometimes you have to be careful when swimming at the beach, as the humpback whales are breaching so close to shore.I have even had them swim up next to me. It is important to note that Twofold Bay in Eden is the third deepest natural harbour in the world. It is a great place for the whales to rest on their southern migration.

  7. Ross Clarke says:

    Thanks for tip Rachael, I read up on Eden and Old Tom. Amazing how intelligent Orca’s are, especially when hunting.

    Hopefully I can visit it one day.

  8. Luc says:

    What about Madagascar? every year these big cetaceans travel to the warm sea of the indian ocean into the sea of Nosy Boraha island also nicknamed as the “island of Pirates”… There should hold the first rank as to be the best place to observe whales…

  9. Richard LEWIS says:

    I enjoyed reading your article! Another excellent place to go whale watching.Whale watching is one of the most exciting activities for people who love seas…I have some experience on long beach whale watching also.

  10. Heather S says:

    I’m so glad that Quebec made the list! I had the chance to visit, and I spotted a belugas as I crossed the St. Lawrence Seaway when I was on a ferry. Exciting!
    One of my personal recommendations for whale watching in Canada is Brier Island, in Nova Scotia. It’s really small, but the whale watching there is fantastic!

  11. Cecilia Torrejón says:

    Isuggest to visit Península Valdes in Patagonia Argentina. The Best whale watching experience by boat or from The shore.World natural heritage. Southern Right whales. Amazing!

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