Ahab pursued one. Jonah was swallowed by one. And today, millions of people gather just to see one. Indeed, whales—those mammoth sea creatures that roam the ocean from South Africa to the Arctic—never fail to captivate us. Here are 10 optimal places to watch them all year long.
Ahab pursued one. Jonah was swallowed by one. And today, millions of people gather just to see one. Indeed, whales—those mammoth sea creatures that roam the ocean from South Africa to the Arctic—never fail to captivate us. Here are 10 optimal places to watch them all year long.10
Given their remote locale, the nine volcanic islands that make up the Azores offer prime whale sightings from April to October. Among them, Faial, Pico, and São Jorge are particularly fruitful—with an abundance of fish that entice sperm and short-finned pilot whales. You can hire a tour boat to observe them from any of the islands, but Pico is the most scenic. From $62 for a 3-hour tour.
It’s no surprise that Dominica is known as the whale-watching capital of the Caribbean: Visited by 40-ton whales, who like to socialize, mate, and play off its shores, boat excursions here promise a 90-percent chance of spotting one up close. The waters are partial to sperm, killer, and pigmy whales, which are most often seen between late November and March. From $89 for a 3.5-hour tour.
Whale sightings are so frequent on Cape Cod that the World Wildlife Fund named Massachusetts one of the top 10 whale-watching spots in the world. The wow factor here is huge, with minke, finback, and humpback whales spotted regularly. Many local whale-watching companies declare a 99-percent whale-spotting success rate during the peak viewing months of April to October. From $47 for 3.5 hours.
Each winter, droves of humpback whales migrate to Hawaii. The clear water surrounding the islands provide visibility of up to 100 feet below the surface, making for incredibly easy sightings from late November to mid-April. While whales visit all of the islands, Maui is their favorite—specifically along the southern and western shores between Wailea, Kihei, Lahaina, and Ka’anapali. From $32 for 2 hours.
On the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, the small seaside town of Kaikoura is one of the world's most likely places to see a sperm whale; throngs of them congregate off its shores year-round. You’ll also spot orcas (December–March), humpbacks (June–July), and, if you’re lucky, a mighty blue (June–September); there are dolphins, fur seals, and seabirds, too. From $110 for a 3.5-hour tour.
At the southernmost tip of Africa, Hermanus offers, hands-down, the best shore-based whale-watching in the world. Every July, onlookers eagerly await the annual visit of the Southern right whales that love the warm, shallow waters surrounding this seaside destination (May–December). The 6-mile-long cliffside path is the perfect perch from which to spot them. From $70 for a 2-hour boat tour.
From January through April, magnificent humpbacks migrate some 6,000 miles from Siberia and Alaska to the warm waters of Baja California and the Sea of Córtez. You'll also spot sperm whales, blues, and grays. Boat tours aplenty will take you to see whales mating, nursing, and playing with their young. From $70 for two hours.
Often considered the gem of the San Juan islands, this nature-lovers' paradise shares its name with the killer whales that gather off its 125 miles of coastline. From April through October, visitors flock here to watch pods of cresting gray whales and orcas. You can see them, as well as harbor seals and porpoises, by taking a cruise along the coast. From $100 for a 2.5-hour cruise.
Quebec is home to two types of whales you're unlikely to see elsewhere: the nearly extinct North Atlantic right whale—just 400 remain in the world—and the beluga. Beloved for their expressive faces, which peek out from the St. Lawrence River between May and October, belugas are best spotted in Tadoussac; move on to Percé for every other variety (mike, humpback, and blue). From $55 for 3.5 hours.
Forget SeaWorld; watch gray whales in their natural habitat as they pass through San Diego Bay each winter on an epic 5,000-mile journey to at Baja’s southern tip. These 50-foot-long gentle giants make their appearance between mid-December and mid-March. Head to Cabrillo National Monument to take it in from a panoramic outdoor observatory, 400-plus feet above sea level. From $30 for a 3-hour tour.