Whenever Possible: Go Whale Watching
I love whale watching and have applied for jobs working on whale watching boats as a naturalist and have been known to plan vacations around whale sightings. Whether I’m in a boat miles off shore, sitting on the beach, or relaxing on my own patio, I love looking for spouts, breaches, lobtailing and tail slaps. I’m intrigued by individual whale flukes and “fluke-up dives.” Whale tails have two lobes with a notch or v-shaped indentation where the lobes meet. Naturalists and researchers advocating for whale safety and monitoring their habits and numbers photograph the underside of the flukes for unique identification. Each one is different.
I’ve been whale watching around Vancouver Island, Gaspe Peninsula, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, Washington, Mexico, Hawaii, Friday Harbor, and all around Alaska, to name a few of my favorite places. One day I sailed out of Lahaina on Maui. Two whales swam right along with us for 20 minutes. Everyone on the boat was silent, so focused on our magnificent guides while the captain kept slowing down the boat to adhere to the law not to interfere with them. We had to remain about one-quarter mile (about 500 yards) away, but the whales kept teasing us and trying to break the rules.
Visiting Maui? Humpbacks give birth in the winter. February is the very best month for whale watching. When visiting Virginia Beach, call the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center to ask if they are seeing whales and be sure to add a wildlife cruise to your schedule.
Depoe Bay, Oregon (with its latest reported population of 1,877) has year round whale sightings. Gray whales feed near the shoreline in December and January. Humpbacks and blue whales feed there during the summer months. Blue whales hang out year round. Check out what’s happening with the Whale Watching Center.
Cape May is whaling busy year round with many of their whales not migrating. Visit to cruise to see both whales and dolphins, or book a trip that includes talks from naturalists. I recommend that wherever you plan to go, always call ahead to ask: Are they spotting whales? How many per day? Will there be a naturalist on board? Is it geared to all ages? Do they have a height minimum for children?
Researching for this Three Tomatoes Immersion Travel column, I learned that in 2011 only 10 whales were spotted around New York City. In 2018, there were more than 275 documented sightings, of almost all humpbacks, conducted by Gotham Whale. They work with American Princess Cruises offering whale watching trip out of Rockaway, Queens. How exciting is that, to cruise around New York City looking for whales? I did what a whale watching fanatic needed to do. I signed up for a whale watch cruise in mid-September departing from Riis Landing, Rockaway Beach, Queens, with cruises planned until the first week in November.
The Top 12 Best Places to Whale Watch, according to CountryLiving.com
San Juan Islands, Washington: Orcas, Humpbacks, Minkes, Gray Whales, May–September
Bar Harbor, Maine: Humpbacks, Finbacks, Minkes; April–October
Maui, Hawaii: Humpbacks, November–May
Juneau, Alaska: Humpbacks, Orcas; Cape Cod, May–September
Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary: Humpbacks, Pilot Whales, Minkes, Finbacks, April–October
Newport Beach, California: Gray Whales, Humpbacks, Finbacks, Minkes, Blue Whales, Year Round
Jacksonville, Florida: Right Whales, December–March
Long Island, New York: Baleen Whales, Toothed Whales, Finbacks, Humpbacks, Minkes, Sperm Whales, Blue Whales, Sei Whales, Right Whales, July–September
Virginia Beach, Virginia: Humpbacks, December–March
Depoe Bay, Oregon: Gray Whales, Humpbacks, Blue Whales, Year Round
Cape May, New Jersey: Humpbacks, Finbacks, Right Whales Year-Round
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Right Whales, Humpbacks, Pygmy Sperm Whales November–April