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Humpback Whale (flickker photos)

Where and when to watch whales

21st August 2011

Searching for whales in the world’s vast oceans can be a needle-in-a-haystack job – so use William Gray's concise guide to be sure you’re in the right place at the right time

William Gray

1. South-east Alaska, USA

Key species: Orca, humpback
Why: Humpbacks bubble-net feeding; orca hunting salmon and marine mammals.
When: June-early September

2. British Columbia, Canada

Key species: Orca, grey
Why: Johnstone Strait and Puget Sound (just to the south in the USA) are two of the world’s best places to see orca, while grey whales migrate along the west coast of Vancouver Island.
When: March-April for grey whales; May-September for orca

3. California, USA

Key species: Grey, blue, humpback, fin, minke, beaked
Why: Grey whales migrate along the coast, while the food-rich canyons and banks of Monterey Bay attract blue, humpback, grey, fin, minke and beaked whales.
When: Greys arrive late January; prime time for Monterey Bay is August-October

4. Baja California, Mexico

Key Species: Grey, blue, humpback, Bryde’s, fin, sperm, minke
Why: Grey whales calve and mate in Baja’s Pacific lagoons, while the Sea of Cortez is renowned for encounters with blue, humpback, Bryde’s, fin, sperm and minke whales.
When: January-April for grey whales; year round for Sea of Cortez

5. New England, USA

Key species: Humpback, fin, minke, pilot, right
Why: Stellwagen Bank, off Cape Cod, is summer feeding ground for humpback, fin, minke, pilot and right whales.
When: April-October.

6. St Lawrence River & Gulf, Canada

Key species: Beluga, fin, minke, humpback, blue
Why: The spring thaw sparks a food-chain reaction that lures a variety of whales, including beluga, fin, minke, humpback and blue.
When: June-November; Mingan Islands for blues, August-November

7. Bay of Fundy & Newfoundland, Canada

Key species: Northern right, sei, fin, minke, humpback
Why: Humpback, fin and minke whales are commonly seen, with sei and sperm whales encountered further offshore. The Bay of Fundy is an important feeding and nursery area for the rare northern right whale.
When: August-November northern right whales; June-October other species

8. Caribbean

Key species: Sperm, humpback
Why: The seas around Dominica are home to resident sperm whales, while humpbacks gather to sing, mate and calve in the marine sanctuary north of the Dominican Republic.
When: Year-round for sperm whales; January-April for humpbacks

9. Valdés Peninsula, Argentina

Key species: Orca, southern right
Why: To see southern right whales at play, raising their tails out of the water and using them to ‘sail’ across sheltered bays. Orca, meanwhile, have prey on their minds, surfing onto beaches in pursuit of sea lion pups.
When: Mid-July-November for southern right whales; orca year round, but hunting sea lions mid-February-mid-April

10. Iceland

Key species: Minke, humpback, blue, sperm
Why: Spot whales in the glow of the midnight sun. Húsavík has an excellent whale museum and offers cruises in search of minke and humpback whales. Try Stykkishólmur on the west coast for blue and sperm whales.
When: May-September

11. Scotland

Key species: Minke, humpback, fin, sperm, orca
Why: Set sail for the Hebrides, Orkney or Shetland Islands for sightings of minke whales, plus humpback, fin and sperm whales if you’re lucky. Large pods of orca are also sometimes sighted, particularly around the Shetlands.
When: May-October

12. Arctic Norway

Key species: Orca, sperm
Why: Orca hunt herring in Tysfjord; sperm whales seek squid in the submarine canyons of the Andenes.
When: Late May-September for sperm whales; November-January for orca

13. South Africa

Key species: Southern right
Why: Whalewatching for landlubbers. Drive the Whale Route from Cape Town to Durban for sightings of southern right whales close inshore.
When: July-November

14. Sri Lanka

Key species: Blue, sperm
Why: The south coast, particularly in the seas between Dondra Head and Mirissa, has emerged as prime territory for blue and sperm whales.
When: January-April

15. Japan

Key species: Humpback, Bryde’s
Why: Humpbacks over-winter off the Kerama chain (south-west of the Okinawan islands) and Ogasawara islands (1,000km south of Tokyo); Bryde’s whales visit Ogata (Shikoku).
When: February-April for humpbacks; March-October for Bryde’s whales

16. Antarctica

Key species: Orca, various baleen species
Why: Krill-rich seas create the ultimate feeding ground for baleen whales, while orca nose around for penguins and seals.
When: Late November-March.

17. Hervey Bay, Queensland

Key species: Humpback
Why: It’s a favourite stopover for migrating humpbacks.
When: August-October

18. Kaikoura, New Zealand

Key species: Sperm
Why: Bachelor sperm whales hang out on the edge of the continental shelf, a short boat ride from shore.

When: Year round

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