Whale Watching

Best Destinations for Whale Watching

Best Destinations for Whale Watching

There’s something special about the stunning majesty of a breaching whale, our breathless wonder at the staggering size of it. Whales have fascinated us for centuries, and with good reason. With the fresh salt air and the freedom of the ocean stretching out before you, whale watching feels like getting a glimpse into another world.

Sailing through the same waters whales call home can be a wonderful way for whale lovers to view these amazing social animals. With so many possibilities, the only question becomes where you should go first.

In This Article

12 Best Destinations for Whale Watching

Whales swim through every ocean on Earth, and people everywhere watch in awe as these gentle giants pass by. Here are 12 of the world’s best places for whale watching.

1. Strait of Gibraltar

The Strait of Gibraltar between the coasts of Spain and Morocco is a beautiful place to spot whales year-round. As you cruise through these waters, you’re likely to see several species:

  • Long-finned pilot whales
  • Orcas
  • Sperm whales

The strait is also home to common, striped and bottlenose dolphins. Though sightings are rare, you may even be able to spot a fin whale, one of the largest animals on Earth — second only to the blue whale.

You can find the social and curious long-finned pilot whales in the strait year-round. They often rest and play near the surface at high tide, so you’re almost sure to see them at some point on your trip. Sperm whales arrive in the spring, and orcas visit the strait from late spring through summer.

2. Dominica

Also known as The Nature Island, The Commonwealth of Dominica is a Caribbean island with steep drop-offs in the ocean off its western coast. A cruise through these beautiful turquoise waters is excellent for spotting different types of whales:

  • Sperm whales
  • Humpback whales
  • Short-finned pilot whales
  • False killer whales

Dominica’s sheltered waters make it a perfect breeding and calving location for sperm whales, who live there year-round. You’re most likely to spot these whales between November and March, the same months when you’re most likely to spot a humpback whale off the Dominica coast.

Sailing through the Caribbean, you may be able to see whales breaching or spyhopping right from the ship’s deck. Whale enthusiasts looking for a closer encounter can book an excursion and head out with a knowledgeable guide to learn more about these animals. Along the way, you’ll also have the chance to see some of the spotted, spinner and bottlenose dolphins that live in the area.

3. Baja California, Mexico

With the Pacific on one side and the Sea of Cortez on the other, Baja is one of the world’s best places for whale watching. Numerous whale species visit Baja throughout the year:

  • Grey whales
  • Humpback whales
  • Blue whales
  • Fin whales

Grey whales mate, calve and nurse in the protected waters along Baja’s Pacific coast between December and May. Young grey whales are often curious and may approach tour boats to investigate or make a display of breaching. Other species head to the Sea of Cortez in February and March to take advantage of the ample food there. Among them, you might even see blue whales on their way to their calving waters off the coast of Loreto.

A cruise along the coast of Mexico can allow you to see whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions. Excursions offer the opportunity to watch these amazing animals in their natural habitat, guided by experts who can show you to the best places to see them.

Baja California, Mexico

4. Iceland

Off the coast of Iceland, with its hot springs, rushing waterfalls and black sand beaches, the ocean waters teem with whales. Drawn by abundant food sources, some of the species you’re likely to spot here include:

  • Minke whales
  • Humpback whales
  • Sperm whales
  • Orcas

Summer is the best time to visit Iceland for whale watching, as the long daylight hours draw more fish and krill to the area, and whales swiftly follow.

Minke whales are the most common in these waters. Their numbers are highest in summer, though you can find them here year-round. Orcas are another group of year-round residents more visible at this time of year as they come closer to shore.

While humpback whales arrive in lower numbers, their fondness for dramatic breaching means you’re at least as likely to see them as a minke whale.

You may also see sperm whales, blue whales and fin whales. White-beaked dolphins and harbor porpoises live around Iceland year-round, and off the northern coast, you may even have a chance to spot beluga whales and narwhals.

5. Strait of Georgia

The Strait of Georgia runs between Vancouver Island and the coast of mainland British Columbia. Several whale species either make their homes here or pass through on their migration paths, including:

  • Humpback whales
  • Minke whales
  • Orcas

While you can find whales in these waters for a large portion of the year, visiting between mid-July and October offers the greatest variety. Whether you’re taking a day tour from Vancouver or cruising north to Alaska, mid- to late-summer is the perfect time for whale watching here.

Orcas populate these waters between May and October to hunt sea lions and migrating salmon. Their numbers, dramatic black-and-white coloring and familiarity with human activity make these the easiest whales to spot here. Massive humpback whales live in the strait year-round, and their size and high population make sightings likely.

Minke whale populations in the Strait of Georgia are far lower than the other two. However, it is possible to spot them in shallower water. While you’re watching for them, you might also have a chance to see seals, sea lions and harbor porpoises.

6. Alaska’s Inside Passage 

Alaska's Inside Passage

The southernmost part of Alaska’s coastline is dotted with islands interwoven with coves, bays and fjords. This area and the waters that weave through it are known as the Inside Passage — a popular route for smaller boutique cruise ships. Whale watching in the Inside Passage, you’re likely to see two main species:

  • Orcas
  • Humpback whales

Orcas live in this area year-round, and bounties of fish and krill attract pods of humpback whales in the summer. May through September will offer the best views if you’re planning a whale watching trip.

On the northern side of the Inside Passage, Juneau is a major hub for whale watching. With around 20 whale watching businesses to choose from with tours that average between two and four hours, you’re almost guaranteed to find one that fits into your itinerary.

You can also opt for an expedition arranged through your cruise ship. Let the experts handle the logistics while you watch for whales along the dramatic Alaskan coast and enjoy the remarkable experience with some of your fellow travelers.

7. Sitka, Alaska

Sitka, Alaska, is a town on the western coast of an island on the edge of the Inside Passage. Enclosed by mountains on one side and ocean on the other, Sitka is host to a variety of wildlife, including several species of whales:

  • Humpback whales
  • Minke whales
  • Grey whales
  • Sperm whales
  • Orcas

Sitka Sound offers protected waters where humpback whales, minke whales, orcas and grey whales feed. While you can find whales here at any time of year, the summer months give the best opportunity and variety.

You can take a whale-watching boat tour or do your viewing from land at O’Connell Bridge or Whale Park. Many cruises in this area include excursions with local experts onboard who can help you spot seals and sea otters as well as whales.

In between whale sightings, you can view the orca skeleton at the Sitka Sound Science Center Aquarium. If your visit falls later in the year, you might attend the annual Sitka WhaleFest to celebrate and learn about these amazing animals.

8. Glacier Bay National Park

At the northernmost edge of the Inside Passage, the glaciers and temperate rainforest of Glacier Bay National Park give way to sheltered fjords. Visiting Point Adolphus, just across the water from the bay, allows you to see several types of whales: 

  • Humpback whales
  • Minke whales
  • Orcas

Summer is the best time for whale viewing here. Glacier Bay’s nutrient-rich water attracts large numbers of fish, which in turn attract hungry whales. You can find them feeding here throughout the summer before they start their migration south again.

Humpback whale numbers are especially high here because the National Park Service has designated Glacier Bay a humpback whale sanctuary. The park has also designated certain protected areas for sea lions and harbor seals. 

Because of these protections and stringent boating regulations, the best way to observe the whales and other wildlife is to book an excursion through your cruise. You can rest assured that your cruise line has arranged everything following the park’s regulations and simply take in the splendor of this beautiful park.

9. Prince William Sound

Sitting at the top of the Gulf of Alaska, Prince William Sound is ringed with glaciers, snowy mountains and temperate rainforest. Several whale species come to its waters to feed:

  • Humpback whales
  • Sei whales
  • Fin whales
  • Minke whales
  • Orcas

While several orca pods live here year-round, summer is the best time to see them as well as the whales visiting for the season. Humpbacks who have calved in the winter in warmer southern waters bring their young up to Prince William Sound when the days get longer.

For example, several towns on the coastline, like Whittier and Valdez, are home to whale watching tours. If you want to design your own, you may be able to charter a water taxi to take you on a tour around the sound. You can also head to Orca Beach, about 10 minutes from downtown Cordova, for onshore whale watching.

If you want someone else to handle the logistics, your best bet is to book an excursion through your cruise ship. In addition to a comfortable, well-planned trip, you’ll have a guide who can give you the best chance of seeing the whales, sea lions, seals and sea otters that call Prince William Sound home.

10. Seward, Alaska 

Seward, Alaska

Seward, Alaska, is positioned as the gate to Kenai Fjords National Park on the coast of Resurrection Bay. This glacial fjord is a favored haven for numerous types of whales:

  • Humpback whales
  • Grey whales
  • Minke whales
  • Fin whales
  • Orcas

While grey whales are typically only in the area between March and May, orcas are year-round residents and humpback, minke and fin whales spend the summer around Seward. You’re most likely to spot orcas and humpbacks during your visit, as those two species are the most playful and visually distinct. Minke and fin whales travel alone or in small pods and present more of a challenge for avid whale watchers.

Seward is Alaska’s second biggest whale-watching destination and has plenty of options for wildlife tours. You can opt to book a spot on a local boat tour or rent a sea kayak and set out on your own. You may even be able to book an expedition with your cruise to tour the waters in Kenai Fjords.

11. Turnagain Arm

Just south of Anchorage, Turnagain Arm is a finger of water stretching out from Cook Inlet. Salmon and hooligan swim through in the summer as they migrate back to their spawning sites. Following this plentiful food source, beluga whales pass through Turnagain Arm from mid-July through September.

The Cook Inlet belugas are one of five Alaskan stocks, and are classified as endangered. Though boat tours are discouraged in this area, onshore viewing still offers you a chance to watch these stunning creatures. It’s easiest to see the belugas swimming past just before or after high tide:

  • Bird Point: Located along the Seward Highway, Bird Point is a perfect place to spot both belugas and harbor seals.
  • Beluga Point: This viewing area offers a 180 degree view of the water and viewing scopes to help you get the best view possible.

When the tide is low they sometimes pursue the salmon close enough to the shore that you may be able to hear their vocalizations. If you’re close enough, you can hear the sounds that earned them the nickname “canaries of the sea.”

12. Kodiak Island

Kodiak Island sits at the western edge of the Gulf of Alaska, southeast of the Alaska Peninsula. Home to some of the best whale watching in the world, the island is in the path of several migrating species:

  • Humpback whales
  • Fin whales
  • Minke whales
  • Grey whales
  • Sei whales
  • Orcas

On their way to their final destination in the Bering Sea, Grey whales pass through Kodiak Island’s waters in the spring. As with so many Alaskan locations, orcas are year-round residents. You’re most likely to spot others in the summer as they arrive to feed.

Minke whales, often shy and challenging to spot in other locations, are a much more common sight around Kodiak Island. They gather here in large numbers, and while they surface less often than other species their curiosity sometimes leads them to approach tour boats. 

See Alaska's Whales on a Windstar Cruise

See Alaska’s Whales on a Windstar Cruise

Alaska boasts some of the world’s best places for whale watching alongside breathtaking natural beauty and natural marvels. Rather than visiting just one, an Alaska cruise is the best way to see them all.

Windstar cruises offer an intimate, welcoming ambiance, allowing you to make real connections with fellow travelers who share your interests. Our small, elegant ships allow us to visit unique ports that larger cruise ships miss, and our immersive approach lets you make the most of every port experience.

You can browse our Alaska cruises or contact our Windstar Vacation Planners to learn more.

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