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 to far-flung adventure 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 25 years ago, and whale watching is 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 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 as on our exclusive Into the Blue small-group holiday.
During late winter into spring (March-April) 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.
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 search for the rare North Atlantic Right whale in Nova Scotia (summer). 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. Whale watching in Alaska also provides opportunities to 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.
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 an eco-safari in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf.
Kaikoura, near Christchurch on the South Island is a world-famous as New Zealand’s whale watching hub, for good reason. Pilot, humpback, southern right whales and orca can be seen depending on the season, but sperm whales are the main draw and can be spotted year-round. One of the largest whale species on the planet, these giants of the deep rest on the surface of the ocean in most obliging fashion before diving deep into the Kaikoura canyon with an iconic sweep of the tail. Daily boat trips and sight-seeing flights provide great photo opportunities.
Our Whale and Dolphin Explorer self-drive takes in recommended cetacean hotspots around the country in a stunning 3-week itinerary.
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. The nutrient-rich waters supporting an abundance of life during the summer months.
Small-ship expedition cruises provide optimum chances of encountering these and other marine wildlife and a multitude of seabirds, while onshore musk ox and polar bears roam.
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, corralling the shoals into tight bait balls before gorging on the hapless herring. Our sailing adventure in Northern Norway aims to witness this and more for intrepid travellers.
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.