Did you know that whale-watching experiences are now offered in no fewer than 119 countries?
By the equator, the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers has reported a 60% rise in bookings in 2018, with thousands of tourists flocking to Kilifi County with the specific aim of observing the annual humpback whale migration. From bonnie boat trips along the wild west coast of Scotland to unforgettable excursions under the aurora borealis in Iceland, you’re never far from a whale watching opportunity on all corners of the globe.
And with all the glorious coastline that frames the US and Canada, it’s no wonder North America is also a prime destination for whale watching.
See Magnificent Marine Creatures in Their Natural Habitat
In our oceans, there are 88 different species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. These aquatic mammals are known collectively as cetaceans, and together they make one of the most diverse families of wildlife on the planet.
Whales are vital to maintain the delicate balance of marine habitats. In fact, the ocean environment would likely collapse without them, because they support a stable food chain by swallowing up smaller species, ensuring the oceans do not become overpopulated.
Contrary to popular belief, most whales tend to prefer warmer waters, which is why you’ll see them closer to the coastline during the winter months. These highly intelligent mammals migrate to different regions in search of nutrients and the optimum water temperature to ensure they keep their own temperatures high enough.
Nevertheless, giant species such as the blue whale do make their homes in colder waters, including the Arctic and Antarctic. Their huge volume of blubber helps keep them warm enough to withstand the freezing conditions.
The larger kinds of whale tend to split their lives between separate feeding and breeding grounds, and they rarely stay in one place for more than a few months at a time. Even if you venture to a well-known whale hot spot at the right time of year, patience is still key to ensure a sighting.
Whale Watching Tours and Excursions
If you’re on holiday in the US or Canada and keen to engage in a spot of whale watching, we’d recommend booking an all-day tour as opposed to one that lasts a few hours. Longer boat journeys allow you to travel further out into the sea, making a successful whale sighting more likely.
By dedicating a little more time to the experience, successful sightings are more likely and you may even come across a few different species.
Where to Spot Whales in the USA
Alaska, the 49th state, is one of the most spectacular destinations for marine wildlife on the planet.
Besides the many types of bear, deer and birds of prey that populate the mainland, the waters surrounding this uncharted location are home to no less than eight different type of whale. At various points in the year, beluga, humpback, grey, orca, bowhead, blue, right, sperm and minke whales are frequent visitors of The Last Frontier.
From June through to August, Glacier Bay in Alaska is one of the only places you can catch groups of humpbacks lunge feeding. As well as this dramatic spectacle, you can also get a look at orcas in the wild in Juneau, the capital of Alaska, from April to November.
If you’re extremely lucky, you may even see two rarer species. The first is the blue whale, the largest animal known to have ever existed. At roughly the size of ten elephants lined up trunk to tail, their enormity is difficult to comprehend unless observed in reality.
The second is the sperm whale, unwitting star of Moby Dick and the loudest animal in the world. Its communicative clicks have been measured at up to 230 decibels – almost double the volume of the average gunshot.
To the west of the state you’ll find Kodiak Island, which isn’t only known for being the home of the largest bears in the world.
Every April, Eastern Pacific gray whales migrate to its waters, closely followed by fin and humpback whales in early summer. You may even catch a glimpse of minke and sei whales too – two of the fastest swimming whales with top speeds between 25-30mph.
Further south, if you’re headed to Big Sur on a driving holiday, prepare for the possibility of close encounters with blue, gray, and humpback whales. These giants are spotted around the west coast year round.
If you’re undertaking a leisurely cruise along California’s Scenic Highway, make sure you stop every now and then to soak up the ocean views, as you may just spot a whale gliding by...
Whale Watching in Canada
A trip to the wildlife haven that is Canada presents many opportunities to see rare ocean-dwellers up close. The coast of British Columbia, in the western province of Canada, has one of the highest populations of orcas in the entire world. While more commonly known as killer whales, they’re actually a species of dolphin – their name comes from the fact that they hunt larger whale species in packs.
You can also see gray whales, minkes, and humpbacks in the waters around B.C., so just time your visit between April and October. There are a huge amount of whale watching tour operators on Vancouver Island in the lower mainland region.
If you’re planning a driving holiday in eastern Canada, belugas, minkes and humpbacks can also be seen in the predominantly French speaking province of Quebec – and lucky observers may see colossal blue whales or fin whales (the second largest whale species), from May to October too.
Most of the whale-spotting excursions around Quebec depart from hot spots such as Baie-Sainte-Catherine – affectionately known by locals as whale and beluga country.
Adventurous explorers should head to northern Canada to the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve. This stunning area of Canada consists of thousands of islands and islets peppered along 93 glorious miles.
For the best chance of spotting whales, take a guided boat tour and visit several different islands at once. Enjoy the calm sea breeze and limitless horizons, and scan the water as you go.
Newfoundland and Labrador may be more readily associated with our four-legged companions, but did you know that the most easterly Canada province is also home to a huge diversity of whales? Belugas, minkes, pilots, humpbacks, sperm all venture around the region, and on a good day from May to September, you may be fortunate enough to spot the more elusive blue or fin whales.
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