Whale watching around the world
Become a dedicated follower of flukes with our guide to the world’s best places to spot cetaceans. From short-haul breaks in Europe to witness the incredible winter feeding spectacle of orcas in Iceland and Norway to far-flung polar voyages and coastal-themed self-drives in New Zealand and Canada, we’ve got the world’s whale watching hotspots covered.
Discover the World pioneered the first commercial whale watching trips in Iceland over two decades ago, and whale watching is now a key feature of many of our holidays around the world. Read on for our round-up of the top destinations.
Over 20 species of whales have been recorded in the seas around Iceland, 12 of which are considered ‘regulars’. Add the fact that you can go whale watching in Iceland year round and it’s hardly surprising that Iceland has become such a magnet to cetacean spotters.
Husavik, in the north, is known as Europe’s whale watching capital. During summer (May-September) you can set out into Skjalfandi Bay in a beautifully restored fishing boat searching for minke and humpback whales, as well as white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises. During early summer, you might be lucky enough to spot a blue whale. Back on terra firma, there’s an excellent whale museum in Husavik.
Summer whale watching boat trips are also available from Akureyri and Reykjavik. Visit during mid-summer and you could combine whale watching with the midnight sun.
During late winter (January-March) pods of orca are lured to the coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland on the hunt for vast shoals of over-wintering herring. The feeding frenzy also attracts white-beaked dolphins and numerous gannets and other seabirds. Our Orcas and Aurora escorted tours aim to put you in the thick of the action, setting out on boat trips with expert guides and spending the nights in a prime spot for northern lights hunting.
Like Iceland, northern Norway also hosts a winter gathering of whales, attracted by the prospect of a herring feast. Orcas and humpback whales move into fjords near Tromso, coralling the shoals into tight baitballs before gorging on the hapless herring.
From late May to September, sperm whales can be seen in the Arctic waters of the far north, particularly off the coast of Andenes in the Vesteralen Islands where they hunt squid in submarine canyons.
Whale watching in Canada is hugely popular on both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines – in fact, Canada is home to 33 species of whale! April to October is prime cetacean-spotting time, and there are plenty of options.
You can kayak with orcas in British Columbia’s Johnstone Strait or Puget Sound (May-September), spot grey whales migrating along the west coast of Vancouver Island (March-April) or snorkel with belugas in Hudson Bay (July-August). The St Lawrence River and Gulf is a prime spot for belugas, as well as fin, minke, humpback and blue whales. One of the world’s largest populations of humpbacks congregates off the shores of Newfoundland, while the cetacean-rich Bay of Fundy is an important feeding and nursery area for the rare northern right whale.
Famous for its wildlife on land and on sea, Alaska’s waters are a summer feeding ground for humpback whales (spot them bubble-net feeding on a small-ship voyage along the Inside Passage), but you might also spot orcas, grey, minke, fin and even belugas in key locations like Glacier Bay and the Kenai Fjords. As well as whales, keep your eyes peeled for sea otters, Dall’s porpoise, Steller sea lions, bald eagles and puffins.
Kaikoura, near Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island is a world-famous whale watching hub, for good reason. Sperm whales are the main draw, but the clear coastal waters of New Zealand are home to a wide variety of whales and dolphins, almost wherever you choose to travel.
There’s everything from the chance to swim with dolphins in the beautiful Bay of Islands in the north, to whale watching flights out of Kaikoura.
The Antarctic oceans are home to an impressive list of whales including humpback, orca, fin, sei and minke whales. Late February/early March departures of are best for Antarctic whale watching.
Your best option is to take a small ship expedition voyage as the smaller the ship, the more frequent the opportunities will be to go out in zodiacs (or even sea kayaks) to get out onto the water. And although your guides can’t purposefully approach wildlife in Antarctica, no-one has mentioned that to the animals.
In the Arctic Ocean, beluga, shy narwhal and the rare Greenland whale can be seen along with orca, grey, minke, blue and humpback whales.
Most people opt for small-ship cruises or extended sea voyages when visiting the Arctic Ocean, but it is possible to do land-based wildlife focused trips and see a multitude of whales from the shore (as well as polar bears, muskoxen and birds) if your sea-legs aren’t so sturdy.