Orca, Beluga, Minke – these dancers of the deep are world renowned for their spectacular shows. From spy-hopping and peduncle throws, to breaching and lob-tailing, the beautifully choreographed ‘dance of the whales’ provides no end of point-and-click opportunities for amateur photographers. But even if you aren’t too handy with a camera, whale watching is still an awe inspiring experience. Here are some of the world’s best locations for whale-watching, and catching some of the most memorable cetacean shows on earth!
There’s more to Alaska than Inuits and icebergs. In fact, little known Angoon happens to be one of the most thrilling places to catch the annual migration of California’s 20,000 Grey Whales as they traverse to warmer waters in search of prime feeding grounds.
Hundreds of avid whale-watchers flock to Favourite Bay, Angoon, each summer in the hopes of catching a glimpse of this unique natural phenomenon, and if you pre-book an early morning boat, there’s a strong chance you’ll be able to drop anchor close to the action. But, even if you aren’t fortunate enough to catch the main show, the resident Humpbacks, Porpoises and Orcas at Favourite Bay are equally as entertaining, gliding, cresting and tail-slapping above the waves!
Isle of Mull
Inner Hebrides, Scotland
Blessed with 300 miles of wild coastline and a climate influenced by the Gulf Stream, the picturesque, Inner Hebridean Isle of Mull on Scotland’s West Coast is a prime location for spotting many different whale species. In summer months, the unnavigable Torran rocks to the South become a playground for Bottle Nose Dolphins and Otters, while schools of Killer Whales congregate in the deeper waters. Callaich Point is an ideal land base from which to do a bit of Minke spotting, and if you’re there in late summer, you may even catch one or two basking sharks circling the area. For the best Humpback and Fin whale-spotting opportunities, hop on an early morning Mull ferry at Oban, or the Kilchoan Ferry to Tobermory.
Western Cape, South Africa
With its idyllic location beneath undulating hills and year-round, balmy highs, it’s not difficult to understand the appeal of Hermanus as a retirement town. Following numerous reports of its whale-spotting potential in the 1990’s, Hermanus underwent a slow transformation from picturesque seaside town to a major tourist centre, beckoning visitors of every age and stripe to experience first-hand the beauty of nursing Grey Whales, playful cetaceans and hundreds of schools of dolphins. Boat tours from the New Harbour are by far the best way to see Grey Whales, and Orcas frolicking in their natural habitat, but if you have trouble finding your sea legs, the cliffs high above the town are a great place to experience whales crest-breaking as the sun goes down. Whale season culminates with the famed Hermanus Whale Festival in September, characterised by theatrical street presentations, craft and food stalls lining the heart of the town.
Rich in plankton and warmed by the temperate winds of the Gulf Stream, the Sea of Cortex off California’s central coast is without doubt one of the world’s best Blue Whale spotting locations. Nearly all expeditions kick off at Point Reyes, famed for its resident schools of friendly Bottle Nosed and Striped Dolphins, as well as the odd inquisitive Grey Whale. Their ‘safe’ territory lies just beyond the rugged peninsula, famed for its use in the 1993 blockbuster Orca movie “Free Willy”. Boat operators adhere to the strict 100-metre rule from whales, however that doesn’t stop the Greys from congregating around vessels, reveling in human company. Those hoping to experience the famed 40-foot spout synonymous with these leviathans of the sea won’t be disappointed. Point Reyes is one of the few places in the world where the odds on getting a money shot are stacked in your favour!
A mecca for playful Minke, graceful Humpback and Finback whales during warmer months, Cape Cod, Massachusetts has been named one of the foremost whale-watching hotspots on the planet by the World Wildlife Fund. Cool winds from the North Atlantic make the Cape an ideal breeding ground for zooplankton during summer months, attracting more than 40 mating pairs of the endangered North Atlantic Right whale and boat-shy Sei. Local tour operators lure visitors with the promise of a 99% chance of spotting a whale within just a few minutes of departure from Provincetown, alleged to have the highest concentration of Humpbacks anywhere in the world between April and October. Cape Cod presents a rare opportunity to experience the visceral enchantment of multiple whale species in their natural habit, yet by far the highlight of any trip is being boat-mugged by a gigantic, 40-foot Finback!