Humpback whale breaching (Shutterstock: see credit below)

12 best locations to see wild whales

22nd July 2015

Want an incredible whale watching experience? Make sure you're in the right place at the right time with this guide...

1. Vancouver Island, Canada

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

Orca whale breaching in Canada (Shutterstock)
Orca whale breaching in Canada (Shutterstock)

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)

Whale watching in Canada | Where to go – and when

2. Québec, Canada

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

Fin whales, St Lawrence River (Shutterstock)
Fin whales, St Lawrence River (Shutterstock)

Other wildlife? Seal, porpoise, dolphin, snow goose (Mar-May & Oct)
Best for... Spotting bright-white beluga – Saguenay Fjord is home to a resident population of these ‘sea canaries’
When to go? Best June-Sept

3. Iceland

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

Whale near Husavik, Iceland (Shutterstock)
Whale near Husavik, Iceland (Shutterstock)

Other wildlife? Puffin, porpoise, dolphin
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.  Dominica

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

A young Humpback whale swims at the surface of the Caribbean Sea (Shutterstock)
A young Humpback whale swims at the surface of the Caribbean Sea (Shutterstock)

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

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

Free diver with humpback whales off Mexico's Baja peninsula (Shutterstock)
Free diver with humpback whales off Mexico's Baja peninsula (Shutterstock)

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

Whale watching in Baja California | Practically kissing the humpbacks!




6. Colombia

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

Whale in Utría National Park (Flickr: Creative Commons/Luis Alejandro Bernal Romero)
Whale in Utría National Park (Flickr: Creative Commons/Luis Alejandro Bernal Romero)

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)

Whale watching in Colombia | Two wonderful adventures...


7. Scotland

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

Whales in Chanonry Point, Fortrose, Scotland (Flickr: Creative Commons/Pete White)
Whales in Chanonry Point, Fortrose, Scotland (Flickr: Creative Commons/Pete White)

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

8. Azores

Which whales? Sperm, humpback, sei, bearded, blue, short-finned pilot, orca, fin
Why it's a hotspot: The remote archipelago sits in nutrient-rich waters; the seas sustain resident whale populations, while the islands are also visited by migrating species

Sperm whales in the Azores (Shutterstock)
Sperm whales in the Azores (Shutterstock)

Other wildlife? Dolphin, turtle, manta ray, petrel, shearwater
Best for... Seeing sperm whales spyhopping; swimming with dolphins; gazing out from vigias (whale observation posts)
When to go? Year-round (sperm); late March-early June (blue, fin, sei)

9. Western Cape, South Africa

Which whales? Southern right, humpback, Bryde’s
Why it's a hotspot: Two oceans converge, resulting in a huge diversity of marine life; sheltered bays and warmer waters provide calving spots for migrating whales

Whale breach in Hermanus, South Africa (Shutterstock)
Whale breach in Hermanus, South Africa (Shutterstock)

Other wildlife? Great white shark, dolphin, African penguin, Cape fur seal, black oystercatcher
Best for... Shore-based spotting along the Whale Route; Hermanus Whale Festival (2-4 Oct 2015)
When to go? Best July-Nov; May-Dec (humpback)

10. Sri Lanka

Which whales? Blue, sperm, humpback, Bryde’s
Why it's a hotspot: Sri Lanka’s southern tip nudges the depths of the continental shelf, favoured by blues; nowhere else does the world’s biggest creature swim so close to land, so reliably

Sperm whale in Sri Lanka (Shutterstock)
Sperm whale in Sri Lanka (Shutterstock)

Other wildlife? Dolphin, turtle, flying fish
Best for... Cruising out from Dondra Head to spot mighty blues
When to go? Best January-April

11. South Island, New Zealand

Which whales? Sperm, blue, humpback, southern right, orca
Why it's a hotspot: Tectonic plates collide and ocean currents meet off Kaikoura, attracting an abundance of marine wildlife

Humpback whale, New Zealand (Shutterstock)
Humpback whale, New Zealand (Shutterstock)

Other wildlife? Seal, dolphin, albatross, penguin, shearwater
Best for... Sperm whales, which are present here year-round; swimming/snorkelling with huge pods of dolphin and playful seals
When to go? Year-round (sperm); June-July (humpback); December- March (orca)

12. Tonga

Which whales? Sperm, humpback
Why it's a hotspot: During the austral winter, humpbacks migrate from the South Pole to warmer Polynesian waters to mate and give birth

Humpback whale, Tonga (Shutterstock)
Humpback whale, Tonga (Shutterstock)

Other wildlife? White-tip reef shark, black-tip reef shark
Best for... Spotting humpback mothers with calves – and possibly jumping in to swim with them: this is one of the few places in the world where snorkelling with whales is permitted
When to go? Best July-October


Main image: Humpback whale breaching (Shutterstock)

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