There’s something magical about these majestic creatures of the ocean and seeing them in the wild. Whale watching tours have become one of the world’s most popular wildlife attractions, and they’re way better than seeing a whale in captivity.
Although whales can be found in every ocean from Africa to Antarctica, there are some locations that are better for whale watching tours and the chances of sightings are higher than others. Or in some places, the whales even come close to shore!
Want to see the ocean’s giants for yourself? Read on and check out some of the best whale watching tours from around the world.
Apart from being a popular destination in Hawaii, Maui is also one of the best places in the world to see humpback whales. Every winter, thousands of humpback whales migrate from the frosty Alaskan waters to Hawaiian waters. The whales mate and have their calves here before moving back north in the spring.
The clear waters in Maui makes it easy to spot the creatures. Sometimes you can look out to sea and see one breaching, or hear a whale song when you’re swimming underwater! For up close encounters, there are many whale watching tours available. They range from cruises with hydrophones to hear the whale songs, to snorkelling trips where you’ll see the whales in all their glory!
Iceland is quickly gaining popularity as a whale-watching destination. With over 20 species of whales and dolphins here, it’s hard to comprehend how they’ve stayed under the radar for so long! Although some of the marine creatures can be spotted year-round, the peak season for whale watching here is between June to August.
Another reason to go on a whale watching tour here is that along with Norway and Japan, Iceland remains one of the countries that still does commercial whaling. By supporting the whale watching industry, it also shows authorities that these creatures are more valuable alive than dead. Check out Icewhale for a list of responsible whale-watching tour operators!
Hermanus, South Africa
If you prefer to stay on dry land, Hermanus is a fishing town perfect for watch-watching from the shore. There is even a whale crier in town, who blows a horn to alert everyone when whales are spotted! The sheltered and shallow waters at Walker Bay is the main mating and breeding spot for Southern right whales. The season starts from July to November, with peak activity and sightings in September and October.
If you wish to get closer, there are also boat tours available. Got deeper pockets to reach into? Or serious about wildlife photography? Consider getting an aerial tour, which will fly you over the sea for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Kaikoura, New Zealand
Kaikoura in New Zealand is another popular whale-watching destination, as sperm whales can be seen here all year round. But come between June and July and you’ll also be able to catch humpbacks on their migration journey to Tonga and Australia, along with occasional blue whales and Southern right whales.
Baja California, Mexico
Looking for variety? Baja California hosts humpbacks at its southern tip, grey whales in its lagoons, and everything from blue whales to Bryde’s whales in the Sea of Cortez!
The beautiful grey whales use three lagoons in Baja California for mating and birthing, and these lagoons are strictly regulated to ensure that human activities do not affect them. However, many of the whales here are accustomed to human presence, and actually seek out contact by swimming next to the boats so that tourists can touch them! The best time to visit is between mid-January to mid-April, where the whales will dwell before they migrate back to the Arctic.
Tonga is one of the few places on earth where you can fulfil your dreams of swimming with humpback whales. Every year, they migrate here from Antarctica to mate and give birth. Between July to October you’ll have a good chance of seeing courtship rituals, hear whale songs or see a mother with her calf!
To minimize disturbance and not heavily intrude on the whales, please seek out a licensed operator who uses sustainable practices. Find a list of responsible tour operators here on the Tonga Tourism website!
San Juan Islands, Washington
Fancy seeing some killer whales? You can find orcas off the waters in San Juan Islands, where they gather thanks to an abundant supply of salmon. Your best bet for a sighting is to go on a speedboat tour, as these smaller boats can get you to the pods quickly. Kayak tours are available too for a much more intimate experience, where you’ll likely come across other wildlife too like seals, otters, dolphins and minke whales.
If you don’t want to go into the water, you can also spot the orcas from land. The best spot is at Lime Kiln Point State Park (aka Whale Watch Park), where they come especially close to shore.