Gentle giants of the sea, whales occupy all the oceans of the world. They belong to order Cetacean, which includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises. There are about 44 species of whale and they fall into two suborders: baleen and toothed. Baleen whales have a comb-like fringe to filter plankton and small marine animals, a keen sense of “smell,” and two blowholes. Toothed whales have teeth instead of baleen, one blowhole, and a well-developed sense of hearing in and out of the water. As you travel the world in a chartered jet, taking the time to see the majestic creatures when the season is right will reward you with unforgettable experiences. Keep reading to discover some of the best places for a close encounter.
Fun fact: The whale’s closest living relative is the hippopotamus.
Where to See Some of Your Favorite Whales
Narwhal | Nunavut, Canada
The unicorns of the sea, narwhals are found in the massive Canadian Arctic Archipelago of Nunavut. The area’s ice floe edge keeps the toothed creatures from migrating further into the inlets. Male narwhals are notable for their long ivory tusks that pierce through their upper lips and grow up to 3 meters long. Arctic Kingdom offers private Arctic safaris that include a hot air balloon ride to the “top of the world.” The best time of year to see narwhals in Nunavut is in June. Other whales you might spot in the area include beluga and bowhead whales.
Southern Right Whale | Hermanus, South Africa
A baleen whale that travels throughout the southern hemisphere, southern right whales are distinguished by their broad backs without dorsal fins, long arching mouths that begins above the eye, and white callosities on their heads. The whales are more active toward the water’s surface and display a unique behavior known as tail sailing in which they elevate their flukes (tails) to catch the wind and remain in the same position for an extended period.
The World Wildlife Fund named Hermanus as one of the best spots in the world to watch whales, particularly in Walker Bay. The whales are sometimes so abundant that you can watch them from the shore. The best time of year to watch southern right whales is from July to November, with the peak being between September and November. Other whales that visit Hermanus’s waters include humpback whales and Bryde’s whales. Book a private tour through Southern Right Charters to get an up-close look.
Orcas | San Juan Islands, Washington State, USA
Orcas—also called killer whales—are the largest species of dolphin. The toothed whales are highly social and use sophisticated hunting techniques and vocal behaviors. They’re notable for their distinctive black and white markings, tall dorsal fins, and the ability to jump completely out of the water. The orca’s complex societies rival those of elephants and higher primates (e.g., humans).
While orcas travel throughout the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, one of the best places in the world to see them is in the San Juan Islands. They’re drawn to the large supply of Chinook salmon. The best time of the year to watch orcas is from mid-April through September. Book a private sunset zodiac tour with San Juan Safaris Whale Watch & Wildlife Tours for a unique experience. Other marine life to spot in the San Juan Islands includes minke whales, humpback whales, gray whales and Dall’s porpoises.
Other Whale Watching Hotspots
- Minke whales: Antarctic Peninsula (November to March)
- Belugas: Hudson Bay, Manitoba, Canada (July to early August)
- Gray whales: Baja California, Mexico (mid-January to mid-April)
- Pilot whales: Strait of Gibraltar, Spain (all year round)
- Blue whales (the largest whale): The Azores, Portugal (March to May)
- Humpback whales: Hervey Bay, Australia (mid-July through October)
- Sperm whales: Kaikoura, New Zealand (all year round)