Watching whales is one of the most profound of all wildlife experiences, as these giants of the deep hold a particular attraction for us humans. Our whale watching holidays include trips, destinations and locations that offer the finest possibilities to see whales, such as…
Why our whale watching holidays are so successful
And with over 20 years’ experience in creating tailor-made wildlife holidays, you can trust us to design a Whale watching trip that meets your specific requirements.
What whales to see and where
Whales are categorised into two groups; toothed whales (Odontoceti) that feed on fish, squid, and marine mammals and include sperm whale, killer whale and pilot whale; and baleen whales (Mysticeti) which are made up of filter feeders such as the blue whale, humpback whale, grey whale and southern right whale, that strain seawater through sieve-like structures in their mouth to collect plankton and krill.
Ranging in size from the blue whale, the largest animal in existence, to the 3.5-metre-long pygmy sperm whale, whales are found in all the world’s great oceans in their millions, where they migrate immense distances between their feeding grounds and breeding grounds. Occurring in locations as diverse as the nutrient-rich icy waters around the polar icecaps to the balmy shallows around the equator, they really are universal travellers.
The blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is the largest animal in existence, measuring up to 33 metres in length. It has a long tapering body, a flat U-shaped head, and a prominent ridge that runs from its blowhole to the top of its upper lip.
Blue whale sightings are particularly reliable at Mirissa, in Sri Lanka, where they gather between December and April.They can also be seen in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, and from marine biologists’ boats while helping blue whale researchers in Canada’s Mingan Islands.
The fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) is the second largest animal on the planet after the blue whale. Fin whales are found in Sea of Cortez off the coast of Mexico, where you may get sightings from aboard a specialist catamaran that sails the migratory paths of various whale in search of close encounters.
Fin whales can also be found in the waters of the mid-Atlantic around the archipelago of the Azores, which are home to – or visited by - a surprising number of whale and dolphin species.
The sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) has a large head that can measure up to one third of its length. A bull sperm whale can grow up to 20.5 metres long – which makes it the largest living toothed animal.
Mirissa, on the south coast of Sri Lanka, is one of the foremost places in the world to see sperm whales - they arrive here to feed on the abundant food between December and April, when the sea is relatively calm.They are also found around the islands of the Azores, where you can join a team of researchers on a sperm whale conservation trip.
Pacific grey whale
The grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is slate-grey in colour, covered by characteristic grey-white patterns caused by scars left by parasites. In maturity, a grey whale can reach a weight of up to 40 tonnes. Between December and March, the majority of the world’s population of grey whales congregates in the shallow lagoons along Mexico’s Baja California coast – their breeding grounds.
An unforgettable way to spend quality time with these friendly whales is by joining Mark Carwardine on our Festival of Whales trip. In summer, a number of grey whales feed on the rich plankton off Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island, where we can arrange an excellent self-drive itinerary.
The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) has a distinctive body shape with long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. Highly acrobatic, they are often seen breaching. The world’s largest gathering of humpbacks occurs in Newfoundland, Canada. Here, you can spend time getting to know these curious ‘aquabatic’ giants of the ocean on a study-week or on your own self-drive itinerary. Alaska provides a very special opportunity to experience the phenomenon of humpbacks bubble-net feeding.
Orca (Killer whale)
Despite its name, the killer whale (Orcinus orca) or orca, is a toothed whale that belongs to the family of oceanic dolphins, and is the largest species of dolphin.
One of the best places to see them is off the wild coast of British Columbia in Canada. Telegraph Cove, at the top of Vancouver Island, and Quadra Island are renowned for their orca populations.In summer the Johnstone Strait and Queen Charlotte Strait are considered to be maybe the best place in the world to watch orcas, which are regularly seen at close quarters.
Pilot whales (Globicephala melas) are jet black or very dark grey in colour, with a dorsal fin that is set quite far forward and sweeps backward. Their bodies are elongated but stocky, and narrow abruptly toward the tail fin. Pilot whales are present throughout the year along the coastline off Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica.
Around the mid-Atlantic islands of the Azores, pilot whales are frequently sighted between April and October – usually in deeper water where they can dive to depths of over 500 metres to feed on squid and octopus.
Southern right whale
Southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) are huge rotund creatures, and one of the largest whales in the world’s oceans. They are easily recognised by their lack of a dorsal fin, stubby square-ended flippers, and callosities – unusual wart-like growths – on the head.
Every year they migrate from their icy feeding grounds off Antarctica to warmer climates, reaching Argentina in July. Here, in the bays on either side of the Valdes Peninsula they mate and calve, remaining until December. Gansbaai, on the south coast of South Africa, also provides excellent sightings of southern right whales between July and November.