11 Best Places to go Whale-Watching in the World

From the playful humpbacks to the giant blue whales to the killer orcas, an encounter with majestic whales is undoubtedly an exhilarating experience There are around 90 species of whales spread across the oceans of the world. The massive beasts are always on the move through oceans, as they travel around the world to breed and feed. In quest of food and warmer currents, they migrate further than any other creature on the planet Contrary to popular belief, whales are not as elusive as you think.  They can be found in every ocean in the world and you can go whale watching in every country with a decent coastline. A whale-watching spot may be closer than you think. However, there are some locations where the chances of sightings of the whales are very high as the gigantic creatures come closer to the shore.

Depending on food availability and eating preferences, each whale species has a preferred region. The gentle animals emerge in different parts of the world in different seasons, so you have to keep that in mind. Don’t waste your time going to places where whales are rarely seen or are exploited for tourism. Book with a reputable and licensed tour agency that is familiar with the area and respects the whales and their space. Make sure the excursion follows ethical norms, as additional human interference can disrupt activities and stress the gentle creatures. Here is a list of whale-watching spots around the world if you want to observe these majestic beasts in their natural environments.

PS: The Killer Whale, often known as the Orca, is a dolphin. Because they were spotted hunting and consuming other whale species, ancient sailors termed them ‘killer whales.’ They are extremely powerful and can reach a length of 32 feet. While orcas are not technically whales, they share many of their features with them. So, it is clubbed with whales and called Killer whale. We have included Orca in our list.

1.  SOUTH AFRICA, AFRICA

Southern Right Whale.      Flickr.com

Where in South Africa?
Hermanus (Western Cape)

When to go?
June to November with peak sightings during September and October.

Whales you can see?
Southern right whales, Bryde’s whales, Humpbacks

Why is Hermanus one of the best whale-watching locations in the world?
Hermanus offers some of the best shore-based whale watching. To witness the wonderful wildlife, you don’t even need to get on a boat. The whales can be seen from the shorelines and cliff tops. If you want a closer view, hop on a whale-spotting boat. As two oceans meet at the Southern tip of South Africa, it is a perfect shelter for marine life. Whales migrate from Antarctica to the Western Cape to mate and give birth. Warm seas, shallow sheltered bays, and a huge variety of marine life are perfect for whale breeding. Every September in Hermanus, the annual Whale Festival commemorates the return of the Southern right whales from Antarctica. What’s the cherry on top? South Africa has the highest population in the world for white sharks.

2.  ICELAND, EUROPE

Whale-watching boats.         Flickr.com

Where in Iceland?
Reykjavik, Husavik

When to go?
April-October with peak season from June-August

Whales you can see?
Minke Whale, Blue Whale, Fin Whale, Sperm Whale, Sei Whales, Humpback, Killer Whale

Why is Iceland one of the best whale-watching locations in the world?
Iceland is now known as the whale watching capital of Europe as more than 20 species of whales inhabit these waters. Countless whales flock to the North Atlantic Ocean for its abundant feeding grounds and undisturbed waters. Whales visit Iceland all year, but sightings are easier during the peak season. The shy Minke whale is particularly simple to identify due to its large population in the area. If you’re lucky, you might be able to see the whales breaching under a Northern lights-lit sky. Is there anything more spectacular than that? You might also spot dolphins and porpoises frolicking nearby.

3.  ALASKA, NORTH AMERICA

Humpback.     commons.wikemedia.org

Where in Alaska?
Throughout the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska – Juneau is the epicenter, Glacier Bay National Park

When to go?
April-September with peak sightings between June and September

Whales you can see?
Humpback, Orca, Minke Whales, Gray Whales, Blue Whales

Why is Alaska one of the best whale-watching locations in the world?
The whale-spotting opportunities are tremendous in Alaska as the coastline extends over 6,000 miles and has numerous bays and jagged fjords. The incredibly nutrient-rich Alaskan waters have sufficient food for the gigantic whales. The mammals can be seen from the coast, so there’s no need to go out to sea to see them. However, sightings from the sea are always better. The region is also notable for humpback whales’ ‘bubble netting’ technique, which involves a group of whales working together to create bubble nets under the water and then launching themselves high into the air with wide-open jaws to catch fish. This once-in-a-lifetime spectacle is seen only for a few weeks each year and you have to be really fortunate to witness it. Keep an eye out for seals, dolphins, and porpoises; Alaskan wildlife is simply fantastic. The stunning scenery of ice-covered mountains, virgin coastlines, and undisturbed glaciers is an extra bonus.

4.  SRI LANKA, ASIA 

Blue Whale.      Flickr.com

Where in Sri Lanka?
Trincomalee (East), Mirissa & Galle (South)

When to go?
June-October (East), November-April (South)

Whales you can see?
Orca, Sperm Whale, Humpback Whale, Blue Whale, and Bryde’s Whale

Why is Sri Lanka one of the best whale-watching locations in the world?
Sri Lanka lies within a Protected Zone in the Indian Ocean and is fast emerging as the hotspot for watching whales. The warm waters around Sri Lanka offer plenty of feeding opportunities for the whales as deep-sea trenches are located just offshore. Sri Lanka has exceptional sighting records as the island’s southernmost tip nudges a dip in the ‘continental shelf’, loved by the Blue whales. The coasts of Mirissa and Galle are perhaps the best places in the world to see gigantic blue whales, especially in the months of February and March. The incredible creatures swim so close to the shoreline nowhere else on the planet. While you’re busy spotting the cetaceans, the playful dolphins will zip past your boat. A small plane can be used to fly across the sea and get an overhead view of the remarkable cetaceans.

5.  CANADA 

Killer Whale        Flickr.com

Where in Canada?
Vancouver Island

When to go?
May to September (orca), March-April (Grey)

Whales you can see?
Southern resident Killer whales, Humpback, Minke whales, Gray whales

Why is Vancouver one of the best whale-watching locations in the world?
Vancouver Island in Canada is the place to go if you want to observe Southern resident killer whales (orca). The excursion is made even more enjoyable by the surrounding snow-capped mountain ranges. Vancouver waters are hard to beat in terms of consistency, and there are excellent possibilities of sighting the mammals up close. Along with some other popular species, the northern coast is home to over 250 permanent orcas. The west side of the island is a great site to observe the 20,000 grey whales that pass along the island’s pacific coast between March and April. There are a variety of whale-watching tours available, but one of the best experiences is by kayak. The majority of whale-watching tours depart from Victoria.

7.  THE AZORES, EUROPE 

A pod of Sperm whales.      commons.wikemedia.org

When to go?
March-September, March-May for Blue Whales

Whales you can see?
Sperm Whale, Fin Whale, Blue Whale, Humpback, Orca, Sei Whale

Why is Azores one of the best whale-watching locations in the world?
This far-flung archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is one of the largest whale sanctuaries in the world. The Azores are a group of islands off the coast of Portugal that serves as a stopover for whales migrating across the Atlantic in the summer. The nutrient-rich, sheltered waters and warm temperatures are perfect for the whales to live permanently or pass by. There are around 20 types of whales (including some rare species) that inhabit waters around the Azores. You can spot the resident sperm whales pretty much any time of the year. One of the highlights is watching the sperm whales spy hopping – vertically poking the head out of the water to get a better view of activities near the water’s surface. Whale-watching is one of the main reasons for tourist inflow to the remote volcanic islands. If you are not fond of boats, you can observe them from the vigias (whale observation posts) dotted around the breathtaking islands.

7.  NEW ZEALAND, OCEANIA 

Sperm Whale.        Flickr.com

Where in New Zealand?
Kaikoura in South Island

When to go?
All Year-round for Sperm Whales, June-July for Humpbacks, December-March for Orcas

Whales you can see?
Sperm Whale, Blue Whale, Orca, Pilot Whale, Bryde’s Whale

Why is Kaikoura one of the best whale-watching locations in the world?
Kaikoura, a tiny seaside town in South Island (New Zealand), is a preferred haven for whales. Off the coast of Kaikoura, tectonic plates collide and ocean currents merge, resulting in a robust food chain. It attracts the sperm whale, who is their permanent resident and gathers along the coast throughout the year. Kaikoura is one location, where you will encounter sperm whales quite easily. If you are lucky, you might be able to get a glimpse of the Blue Whale frolicking in their natural habitat. Swimming and snorkeling alongside the gentle dolphins, whales, and seals are all possibilities. A small plane can also be used to spot whales from above, allowing you to appreciate their size and grandeur.

8.  MEXICO, NORTHERN AMERICA

Grey Whale.         Flickr.com

Where in Mexico?
Baja California

When to go?
Year-round with peak sightings between February-April

Whales you can see?
Grey Whales, Humpback, Sperm Whales, Fin Whales, Blue Whales, Bryde’s Whale

Why is Mexico one of the best whale-watching locations in the world?
The Baja California peninsula in Mexico sits in nutrient-rich waters and is a preferred sanctuary for whales all around the year. It separates the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean and is a perfect breeding ground.  The subtropical, sheltered waters of the Sea of Cortez have been called ‘World’s Aquarium” due to their prolific marine life. It hosts dolphins, sea turtles, and everything from blue whales to Bryde’s whales. San Ignacio Lagoon, Magdalena Bay, and Scammon’s Lagoon are the three major breeding lagoons in Baja California. Grey whales come into the shallow lagoons to breed and rear their enormous calves between January and April  Grey whales are very friendly and they may bump your boat or come near you for a hug.  After April, they embark on their incredible migration to Alaska.  Grey whale’s yearly migration between mating lagoons of Mexico and the feeding grounds of Alaska, is one of the longest migrations by any marine creature in the world. Baja California is also a fantastic place to see and swim with whale sharks. Humpback whales frequent the peninsula’s southernmost tip.

9.  CALIFORNIA, NORTH AMERICA

Humpback Whales.     Flickr.com

Where in California?
Monterey Bay

When to go?
Year-round, but summer has the most sightings

Whales you can see?
Grey Whales, Blue Whales, Orcas, Humpbacks

Why is California one of the best whale-watching locations in the world?
One of the most remarkable sites to meet gentle mammals is along California’s lengthy coastline. The migration of 20,000 grey whales takes place along this coast as the whales travel between Alaska and Mexico. Aside from migratory grey whales, the region is home to a variety of other whale species that visit at different times, so sightings are always guaranteed. Monterey is the most popular destination for whale-watching cruises and tours. Other marine life found in the vicinity includes sea lions, porpoises, dolphins, and sea otters. 

10.  HAWAII, NORTH AMERICA 

Humpback Whales.        commons.wikemedia.org

Where in Hawaii?
Auau Channel between Maui and Lanai

When to go?
November to May, but peak season runs from January to March.

Whales you can see?
Humpback, Pilot Whales, Sperm Whales, Melon Headed Whales

Why is Hawaii one of the best whale-watching locations in the world?
Hawaii is known for more than just its turquoise waters, lush rainforests, and pristine beaches. The region is a whale magnet and one of the best places for observing whales. The safe and warm waters of Hawaii attract humpback whales. Approximately 10,000 humpback whales migrate from frigid Alaskan waters to these tropical islands to mate, breed and rear their young. They linger for months to allow their calves to grow strong enough to leave for the colder, more fertile waters further north. From November to May, the waters of the Hawaiian Islands, particularly Maui’s shorelines, are abuzz with acrobatic, social, and curious humpbacks.

11.  SCOTLAND, EUROPE 

Minke Whale.     Flickr.com

Where in Scotland?
Isle of Mull, Orkney, Shetland Islands

When to go?
Year-round, but May-September is the best time

Whales you can see?
Minke Whale, Orcas, Fin Whale, Sperm Whale

Why is Scotland one of the best whale-watching locations in the world?
The peaceful waters surrounding the west coast of Scotland are one of the premier destinations for whale-watching in Europe. Every year, over a third of the North Atlantic’s whale population migrates across the western Scottish coast, including sperm, fin, humpback, and minke whales. However, some whale species are resident year-round. This stunning corner of the British Isles is home to the minke whale. They can be seen devouring fishes, seals dolphins, porpoises eagles & puffins. If you want to see orcas, head further north to Orkney. Orcas usually hunt in pods (groups) of 30-40 whales. It is a sight that should not be missed as spotting a group of whales is truly a unforgettable experience.

Besides this, there are a few other destinations like San Juan Island (Washington), Strait of Gibraltar (Spain), Hervey Bay (Australia), Nunavut (Canada), Dominica, and the Antarctica Peninsula. So, which of these locations excites you the most?

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