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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tom Marchant is Co-founder of Black Tomato.

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