Whale watching is an experience like no other. The anticipation of looking out across the vast blue of the open water, waiting to catch sight of one of the most fascinating cetacean mammals on the planet is an inspiring and intriguing adventure. In destinations across North America, you can experience whale sightings in island paradises, along coastlines, and near the shorelines of wilderness areas. These natural backdrops set the stage for once-in-a-lifetime whale encounters.
Migratory whales feed in the Atlantic Ocean coastline-waters of Frenchman Bay in the Gulf of Maine. Humpbacks, fins, minke, and right whales majestically breach the surface and whale lovers will spot them about 20 to 40 miles off Bar Harbor’s coast. The pods arrive in mid-April to dine on the sand eels, plankton, copepods, and fish that inhabit these waters. Then, in October, they start their migration to warmer areas.
Without a doubt, the North Pacific humpback whales are a majestic sight to behold, especially in an idyllic setting like Hawaii. The first humpback sightings occur in October and November. Prime viewing starts between December and March, peaking in February. The humpback is the fifth largest whale species, with adults weighing between 25 and 40 tons. They’ve been migrating to these waters since the ancient Polynesian Era, not only to feed and breed, but also to birth and raise their calves.
A region that extends from the Cascade Mountains in the east to the Olympic Mountains on the west, and touches the Canadian border on the north, Puget Sound is an important, complex ecosystem. Some people call this majestic area the American Serengeti because of its abundance of wildlife. Several types of whales also make their way here throughout the year:
Nine species of whale visit Baja California each year. The gray whales birth their young in only three places in the world, and all three are here. Baja’s protected, shallow lagoons resist the strong currents of the Pacific Ocean, creating the perfect nursery for mothers to nurture their newborn calves. Travel to Loreto Bay, a UNESCO natural heritage site and home to nearly 900 fish species. From mid-February to the end of March, blue whales — who prefer deeper ocean waters — make their way closer to the shores to breed and birth their calves.
Glaciers carved this deep and narrow passage that extends from Telegraph Cove in the north to Rock Bay in the south, just off the east coast of Vancouver Island. The rugged coastline is an ideal habitat for a variety of sea and land species. Although many whale lovers make their way to the area between June and October to see the numerous orca groups, other species like the humpback, minke, and gray whales are also regular visitors during the summer months.
The best way to view whales in Alaska is to hop a boat. Awe-inspiring Glacier Bay in southeastern Alaska is a sanctuary for humpbacks, who make their way here during the summer. These mammoths feed for 23 hours each day, consuming around a ½ ton of food. You can hear their eerie-yet-melodic songs and feeding calls soar across the water, which makes the experience even more wondrous.
Although the best time of the year to see magnificent sperm whales falls between November and March, these sea creatures reside in the waters around Dominica year-round. The attitude here is to observe and appreciate the cetaceans with minimal disturbance, and the super-protective locals mandate strict guidelines for whale watching tours. Take a short boat ride to get an up-close look at these lovely mammals gliding through the peaceful turquoise waters of the Caribbean to get a sense of their massiveness and elegance.
In December 2020, shocked onlookers watched a humpback whale surface in the Hudson River and glide past popular landmarks including the Statue of Liberty. Over the last couple of years, sightings have increased in the New York Bight, an area along the Atlantic coast from Cape May, New Jersey to Montauk Point on Long Island. Whale watchers have also spotted fin whales, minke whales, and a few Atlantic right whales, an endangered species.
Massachusetts has some of the best whale-watching spots in the country. Pods of humpbacks freestyle their way through this rocky area in the state’s northeastern Cape Ann region, but you may also see fin whales, minkes, and on rare occasions, a right whale. The best time of year to whale watch is from mid-March through November. A majority of the sightings occur near the Stellwagen Bank and Jeffrey’s Ledge just off the coast.
This whale-watching hub sits on the coast of southern Orange County. The World Cetacean Alliance dubbed it a Whale Heritage Site because of the large numbers that come here. Impressive kelp beds provide a habitat for numerous species of wildlife, including those that whales enjoy feeding on. Blue whales, gray whales, humpbacks, minkes, and fin whales stay here year-round, but rarer species, like pilot and sperm whales, also make appearances.
A confluence of a freshwater source, the Saguenay River, and a saltwater source, the St. Lawrence River combined with three undersea currents creates the perfect feeding grounds in the waters around Tadoussac. This small but popular destination sits at the start of Quebec’s Whale Route. Thirteen species of whales inhabit the nearby waters from May to October and at times, there are so many pods swimming around it’s hard to keep track of them. Visitors can even see the belugas year-round.
This land of volcanoes, waterfalls, and rainforests is also a haven for whales. Costa Rica has the longest viewing season in the world for humpbacks. From July through October, you can see groups of mother whales with their babies, as well as raucous males seeking the attention of the females in the pods. Migrations of humpbacks land here from South America and as far away as Antarctica. Whales migrating to the warmer Caribbean waters from Canada and the U.S. generally arrive between November and April but are fewer in number.
An abundance of krill and other favored whale food makes the Greenland coast an excellent locale to watch whales living in their natural habitat. In South Greenland, there’s more water than land. It creates the perfect play area for fin and minke whales to weave in and out of the fjords. In the summer months, catch some one-of-a-kind photographs of the whales fluking their tails against the icebergs floating in the water at Disko Bay. In Nuuk, whale watching fans can share their photos of humpbacks with the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. This helps researchers learn more about the behemoths and their behaviors.
Head to the Turks Island Passage near Grand Turk and Salt Cay from January through April for some of the best whale watching in the Caribbean. As the whales migrate here from western Europe, Iceland, Canada, and Greenland, they must take the narrow Turks Island Passage to enter their seasonal home. This makes it an ideal spot to see pods of five or more whales as they make their way into the warmer waters.
The only community on the Arctic Circle, this is a whale-watching spot for those seeking grand adventures. The Inuktitut people call this community “Naujaat” which means “seagull resting place.” Beluga, orca, and bowhead whales reside in the cold waters here, along with the shy. fast-swimming, and acrobatic shy narwhal. The best chance to see narwhal is in the spring and summer, near the coast.