Encountering a whale can be deeply moving. These mysterious creatures are found in every ocean in the world from Africa to Antarctica. You can go whale watching from basically any country with a coastline, but there are certain places where the chances of sightings are particularly high and the whales come conveniently close to shore. But which is the best place for whale watching?
There is something so magical about seeing a whale in the wild. Maybe it’s the fact that we feel so small next to them (blue whales can weigh an astounding 300,000 pounds) or that for most of us, whales aren’t animals that we get the chance to see every day. Whether you’re spotting one from the deck of a whale-watching cruise or from the shores of a national park, whales are some of nature’s most beautiful creatures.
To observe these gentle giants in their natural habitats, add one of these coastal destinations teeming with whale-watching opportunities to your bucket list. Want to see whales in the wild? Make sure you’re in the right place at the right time, with the help of our expert guide. These are the 14 best places for whale watching:
1. Vancouver Island, Canada
For more accessible wildlife encounters, head to Vancouver Island in March and April to see the gray whale migration, or from May through September when the orca are at their most plentiful. (Over the summer there are also humpbacks, minke, fin, sperm, and even blue whales off the East and West coasts).
Which whales? Orca, grey, humpback, minke.
Why it’s a hotspot: Some 20,000 grey whales pass the island’s Pacific coast in spring; it also has resident orca – the most researched pods in the world. and once of the best place for whale watching.
Other wildlife? Salmon, sea otter, seal, sea lion, bald eagle.
Best for… Close-ups with orca in Johnstone Strait; spotting migrating greys, then attending the Pacific Rim Whale Festival (March).
When to go? March-April (grey); May-September (orca).
2. Québec, Canada
For those with an adventurous spirit and cash to spare, an expedition to the Northern provinces offers access to some of the rarer and more exotic whale species. In Arctic Nunavut, May and June are a good time to see narwhals (aka the unicorns of the sea) and bowhead whales, as well as walruses and polar bears. From June onwards you can spot friendly, chattering beluga whales in Churchill, Manitoba and Tadoussac, Quebec.
Which whales? Blue, humpback, fin, minke, beluga
Why it’s a hotspot: Three currents collide near Tadoussac in the Gulf of St Lawrence’s mouth, stimulating plankton development and providing a veritable feast for whales.
Other wildlife? Seal, porpoise, polar bears, dolphin, snow goose
Best for… Spotting bright-white beluga – Saguenay Fjord is home to a resident population of these ‘sea canaries’.
When to go? Best June-Sept.
Still under-the-radar as a whale watching destination, Iceland is actually one of the best places in Europe to do it. There are more than 20 species of whales and dolphins to be seen here, including minke, fin, sperm, humpback, blue whales and orca. Some of these cetaceans can be spotted year-round, but the peak season is June to August when operators report a 90% success rate.
Another compelling reason to take a whale watching excursion here is that Iceland is one of the only remaining countries that still hunts whales commercially, along with Norway and Japan; supporting the whale watching industry shows authorities that living whales are more valuable than dead ones. Let´s go change the World!!!
Which whales? Minke, humpback, blue, sperm, sei.
Why it’s a hotspot: The North Atlantic is a good feeding ground; whale-watching trips run from the west or north of the country – Húsavik is the main hub, but tours also leave from Reykjavík.
Other wildlife? Puffin, porpoise, dolphin, orca.
Best for… Whalewatching under the midnight sun (June-July); visiting Húsavik Whale Museum.
When to go? Best May-September; June-July (blue); May-August (puffin).
4. Dominican Republic
The visit to the Sanctuary of the Humpback Whales in Samana is one of the most beautiful excursions in the Dominican Republic, the beautiful Samana Bay and the Silver Bank, located in the Northwest of the country, where every year, between December And March, about 2,000 humpback whales come to reproduce in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Until recently, it was believed that only 85% of the Atlantic humpback whales were born in Dominican waters and returned annually to mate and breed. But a recent study revealed that all populations of the Atlantic come to reproduce in Dominican Republic waters.
Which whales? Sperm, humpback, short-finned pilot, false killer, melon head, pygmy sperm.
Why it’s a hotspot: Steep underwater drop-offs along the Nature Isle’s west coast create sheltered bays – ideal places for sperm whales to breed and calve.
Other wildlife? Dolphin, pelican, turtle.
Best for… Shore-based and boat-based sightings of resident sperm whales.
When to go? Year-round but best November-March (sperm); January-April (humpback).
5. Baja California, Mexico
Baja California’s UNESCO protected bays (meaning whales here are protected from big boats, water pollution and hunting) combined with the naturally calm, warm and nutrient-rich waters, make it the perfect breeding spot for whales. In fact, grey whales give birth in only three locations in the world, all of which are in Baja’s peninsula.
A whale watching tour in Baja, then, means getting to the very life source of the ocean’s most majestic animals – and, of course, the chance to see a lot of baby whales. What more could you want?
Which whales? Grey, blue, fin, Bryde’s, humpback, sperm, minke.
Why it’s a hotspot: Greys come to breed in San Ignacio Lagoon, on the Pacific coast; multiple species congregate in the food-rich Sea of Cortez.
Other wildlife? Dolphin, California sea lion, Guadalupe fur seal, northern elephant seal, blue-footed booby, frigatebird.
Best for… Eyeballing friendly greys, which bump right up against small boats and love to be hugged.
When to go? Best February-April.
The Colombian Pacific coast is an idyllic place for whale watching, endowed with a magical atmosphere that only the whispers of its waves and the warmth of its waters can offer. There are plenty of reasons why humpback whales travel here from the southernmost part of the continent to give birth to their young.
From July to November each year, the Colombian Pacific coast has a special feel. The beautiful morning twilights, the sunny days, the red and orange hues of the sunsets, its tropical jungle, and its turbulent or calm waters are complemented by the dancing and chanting of whales that come here every year to give birth to their young. Whale watching is common in this remote and heavenly place in Colombia, where these colossal mammals flaunt their jumps, loins, and tails, along with the playfulness of the newborn calves, eager to explore the warm and tropical waters of the region.
Which whales? Humpback.
Why it’s a hotspot: Colombia’s Pacific coast is on a humpback migration route; sighting hotspots include Nuqui, Bahía Solano and Bahía Málaga. Combine the whales with a spot of jungle trekking.
Other wildlife? Turtle, dolphin, sea lion.
Best for… Taking boat trips to spot breaching humpbacks and mothers with calves.
When to go? Best July-Nov (whales); Jan-July (turtle nesting).
Scotland has cashed in on the abundance of minke whales off its coast by embracing whale watching. There are now dozens of operators around the coast offering whale-watching boat trips lasting from a couple of hours to all day; some have whale-sighting success rates of 95% in summer.
The best places to base yourself for whale watching include Oban, the Isle of Mull, Skye and the Outer Hebrides. Orkney and Shetland offer the best chance of spotting orcas (killer whales), while the Moray Firth has a resident population of bottlenose dolphins. Seals, porpoises and dolphins can be seen year-round, but minke whales are most commonly spotted from June to August, with August the peak month for sightings.
Which whales? Minke, humpback, fin, sperm, orca.
Why it’s a hotspot: A third of the North Atlantic’s whale population migrates via western Scotland every year, while some species are resident year-round.
Other wildlife? Dolphin, porpoise, white-tailed eagle, puffin.
Best for… The possibility of large pods of orca, especially off Shetland; minke sightings off the Hebrides.
When to go? Best May-October.
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