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Whale watching

Whale watching travel guide

There’s nothing quite like seeing a graceful fluke or burst of blowhole spray break the ocean’s surface – here’s your guide to where and how to watch whales

Remembering to breathe again after seeing your first whale breach or fluke flick is a challenge. Because, simply, whale watching is one of the world’s greatest wildlife experiences.

You can watch whales all over the world. Different species have different feeding grounds and migration routes. Some of the best places to see whales are the cold waters of the Arctic and Antarctic. However, whales often move to more temperate areas for mating and calving, opening up other potential destinations.

There are many varieties of whales to spot. Plus, if you're not having a lucky day, there'll be other wildlife to see – where you find whales you'll also find plenty of birds and other marine mammals. Most whale-watching tour operators will give you some kind of compensation if no whales are seen on your voyage.

Grey whales can all be spotted off the Pacific coast of North America: their annual 16,000km migration takes them from summer feeding waters in the Arctic to winter calving lagoons in Mexico. Humpback, minke and killer whales can also be spotted in these waters. Blue whales – the world’s biggest creature – are also seen in Mexican waters, mainly from January-April.

Humpback whales are perhaps the showiest species, and can often be seen breaching – leaping out of the water. You can spot these magnificent mammals in locations as diverse as Iceland, the Azores, New Zealand and Antarctica as they tend to hug the shorelines.

Southern right whales cavort off he Western Cape of South Africa in early autumn. You can see and swim with orca (killer whales) in Norway and British Columbia. The largest of the toothed whales, sperm whales can be seen off northern Europe in summer. Other hotspots include the coast off Patagonia, areas of the Caribbean and the South Pacific.

Specialist whale-watching holidays are available all over the world. When you're choosing your operator, look for one that’s signed up to a strict code of conduct for responsible whale watching, which will include approaching whales in the correct way (sideways, never from the front or rear), abiding by minimum distances, etc. If in doubt, ask questions – a good operator will be happy to provide answers.

Whale watching should be an educational experience. Experts should be on hand to interpret behaviour and describe conservation measures, and sightings should be logged for research purposes. Additional activities, such as using hydrophones to listen in on whale and dolphin calls, can provide a more rounded experience.

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