Whale watching is an activity with massive worldwide appeal. Regardless of an individual’s age and interests, tourists travel to far-flung corners of the globe to catch a glimpse of the cetaceans in their natural habitat. The chance of seeing these majestic and awe-inspiring creatures is certainly an experience of a lifetime, so with that in mind here’s a roundup of top ten places best places to watch whales and see these mammals out in the open seas.
10. South Africa
South Africa’s prominent position at the southern-most tip of Africa means it is ideally positioned to see a wide variety of sea life. The whale route along South Africa’s coastline crosses both the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans and stretches over 1200 miles, from Cape Town in the west and Durban in the east. This section of coastline is so rich in migrating whales and dolphins that at certain times during the year you can easily see them from the shore. Expect to see Humpback Whales and, from the shore, Southern Right Whales. Perhaps the best place along the coast to go whale watching is Hermanus, with the best time to see the whales being from June to November.
Spain’s sprawling territories offer a few decent vantage points to spot whales, with the Bay of Biscay in the north being a top place on the mainland. However, it is Spain’s island territories that offer the best places to catch a glimpse of the whales. Those on their holidays to Tenerife may be surprised to learn that the south coast of the island is a haven for pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins. The clear warm seas between Tenerife and La Gomera attract these gentle giants all year round. There are plenty of reputable operators that provide whale spotting tours and it’s a real overlooked gem for this popular holiday island.
8. New Zealand
The small town of Kaikoura on New Zealand’s south island has gained a reputation as a top stop off-point to spot a giant of the Sperm Whale. Thanks to waters rich in nutrients, due to warm and cold currents clashing along with deep seas, the area has become a favourite pit stop for this big species of whale. The whales can be seen from the shore, as well as out at sea.
An added bonus of this whale watching spot is the chance to see one of the world’s rarest and smallest dolphins, which is only found in New Zealand: the Hector Dolphin.
The combination of sheltered bays along the Pacific Coast and the rich feeding grounds of the Sea of Cortez mean California is a superb location to see a variety of whales. The Grey Whale is one of the most notable visitors to the Californian coast, but you’ll also see dolphins, with thousands of them visiting each year. More than this though, California is one of the world’s best places to see the largest species of whales, the Blue Whale. The best place to catch a glimpse of the Blue Whale is along California’s central coast between Point Reyes and the Santa Barbara Channel. It’s probably best to take a tour at sea to see the whales rather than relying on seeing them from the coast.
Somewhat marooned in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the nine islands that make up Azores provide one of the ultimate whale spotting destinations. Attracting over 20 species of cetaceans from April through September, the archipelago’s remote location means it’s an integral port of call for whales crossing the ocean. From here you can expect to see, amongst other species: Blue Whales, Killer Whales, Pilot Whales, and a variety of dolphins. There’s also a chance of spotting the rare Northern Bottlenose Whale.
Along the north-east coast of Iceland there are a variety of whale watching trips to hop on. The tours are run on traditional fishing vessels which add to the sense of adventure. On the outer edge of the Arctic Circle a trip to Iceland is recommended for the summer months, which is when you’ll see Minke Whales, Blue Whales and Humpback Whales. In addition, for those who want to learn more about the whales that are found around Iceland, there’s a wonderful museum at Husavik’s port.
The thousands of Grey Whales found in California migrate north to rich feeding grounds during the summer months off of the southeast coast of Alaska. The island channels that run along the coast of Alaska provide great places to see whales passing through on their migration. “Whale Pass” in Ketchikan is a prime viewing spot to see the Grey Whales, along with Humpbacks and Killer Whales. To really get up close, you can arrange a kayak tour which offers a magical experience of the whales.
To visit one of the world’s best locations to see Killer Whales, then Norway is where you need to be. The Lofoten Islands in the north of the country, inside the Arctic Circle, are where the Killer Whales pass by as they follow shoals of Atlantic Herring north, and the best time to see this is from October through January. A journey to deeper waters means you’re pretty much guaranteed a sighting of the Killer Whales feeding in the Arctic waters.
2. Vancouver Island
Similar to visiting Alaska, a trip to the western side of Vancouver Island is where you’ll see migrating pods of whales of all varieties. As with Alaska, Grey Whales dominate the sightings, but Minke and Humpback Whales are also visible. Along with this, the island is also rich in seals, sea lions, dolphins and many sea birds. A great plus of Vancouver Island is that it is a staging post for whale researchers who offer guided tours to see the varying pods. The tours also allow you to listen to the whales using hydrophones, which is an incredible experience.
The protruding Valdes Peninsula is one the world’s best places to see the Southern Right Whales, along with Killer Whales. The Southern Right Whales visit this protected area between July and December and, during this time, you can see them perform an extraordinary phenomenon of sailing in the wind using their flukes (tails). If you visit from February to April, you can see Killer Whales hunting sea lions, which gives a great illustration of how intelligent Orcas are with organised hunting patterns. Both species of whales can be seen from the shore at the right time of the year, with the Killer Whales hunting right up to the beach.
There are other great locations throughout the world to spot whales, and this list is just a selection of ten top places to visit. Wherever you are in the world, near the coast, there’s usually a chance of not being too far away from seeing some of this great animals of the sea.
Written By Bart Platt