While whales have been swimming in the oceans for thousands of years, watching them for recreational purposes is barely 80 years old. According to a 2015 study on whale watching impacts, this activity was first officially documented in 1955 when people were charged $1 to observe gray whales in California.
Today, this is a billions of dollars-worth industry that provides monetary and educational benefits for millions of people and tourists, respectively, in over 100 countries. It also supports conservation efforts intended to save whales from extinction, whaling, and the threat of environmental decline. If you want to be among the lucky ones to see these giant marine mammals, here are 6 amazing whale watching destinations in the world.
- Húsavik, Iceland
Iceland is one of the most popular whale watching destinations in Europe, offering sightings of over 20 species. This is also one of the three countries in the world (the other two being Norway and Japan) that allows commercial whale hunting. Fortunately, by supporting whale watching, locals and tourists promote the value of these creatures alive, so you would actually participate in the conservation efforts.
The town of Húsavik is considered the main starting port for whale watching, although you can find tours leaving from Reykjavík. Some of the species you can see are minke and humpback whales, and, if you are lucky, blue and sperm whales. To find out more details about whales and their history with humans, stop by the Húsavik Whale Museum, opened for visitors from June to October.
When to come: Available year-round, with the highest sightings rate from June to August.
- Hawaii, USA
Those looking for a perfect retreat with lots of activities should visit Hawaii, a USA state with amazing culture and nature. Thousands of humpback whales come here from Alaska to the warmer climate playfully jumping in the water and coming to greet the ships. This whale species come here for mating and raising their calves until they can swim back together to Alaska.
The best spots for whale watching are Maui and Lanai, the Annau Channel between them to be more precise. However, you can see these magnificent creatures from any Hawaiian island, especially during winter. Look for the tours led by marine biologists if you would like to know more about whales of the area and other marine animals, as well as conservation and environmental efforts.
When to come: January to March, but you may spot some in other seasons.
- Bremer Bay, Australia
Some five hours from Perth, you can join Orca Bremer Bay tours that will take you to see one of the biggest congregations of killer whales. Bremer Bay is a coastal Australian town that serves as a feeding ground for these black-and-white mammals every summer.
However, Orcas are not the only whale species you can encounter here. Pregnant southern right whales come here to give birth and raise their younglings. Pilot whales visit the area as well, being curious about the whale-watchers and coming closer to the boats than other species.
When to come: January to March for Orcas and sperm whales, and July to October for southern right whales and humpback whales.
- Tonga, Polynesia
Tonga in the Polynesian archipelago is one of the rare places you will be allowed to swim with humpback whales. This whale species come here to mate and give birth so you may be fortunate to see their courtship spectacle or calf swimming with a mother. During the mating season, the males sing beautifully to attract females, putting on display their vocal talents.
However, you should always look for a licensed whale watching provider, to avoid disturbing their activities, especially if you plan to take a swim with them. The best place to go on a whale watching and snorkeling tour are Vava’u — a group of islands in Tonga spanning more than 200 miles.
When to come: July to October.
- Isle of Mull, Scotland
Considered by some the best whale watching spot in the world, the Isle of Mull in Scotland is full of these giants from spring to fall. Minke whales, the smallest among baleen whales, are the easiest to see during boat trips. They are friendly to humans and you can even scuba dive with them thanks to their gentle nature.
Humpback whales also love to come here during the summer, while you can spot Orcas any time of the year. On rare occasions, the visitors may be in for a treat and see fin whales and blue whales, although they don’t frequent this area too much.
When to come: April — October, although the highest chances to spot whales are between May and September.
- Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Those who want to see the biggest creature in the world — the blue whale, should come to Sri Lanka’s fishing town of Mirissa. This whale species migrate from the northern hemisphere and use the coast of Mirissa as their habitat, playing with their calves and rising above the water. Other whales you can see here are sperm and killer whales, but also the endangered Bryde’s whale.
The whales are so common here that you can go surfing and spot one in the distance. Have in mind that you can’t swim with blue whales here without a special permit issued by the government otherwise you will be breaking the law.
When to come: Mornings from November to April for blue whales, all year round for Bryde’s whales.
If you have an opportunity to go to any of these whale watching destinations in the world — grab it! Whales are gigantic and fascinating creatures you can bring attention to by supporting whale watching tours dedicated to the conservation and protection of these marine mammals. You may even get a chance to swim and snorkel with some, or at least touch them and hear their mating song.