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12 best locations to see wild whales

Wanderlust logoWanderlust 24/07/2015 Wanderlust

A new baby orca whale swims near its mother near Vancouver Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia. © Center for Whale Research, Ken Balcomb/AP Photo A new baby orca whale swims near its mother near Vancouver Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia. Want an incredible whale watching experience? Make sure you're in the right place at the right time with this guide...

1. Vancouver Island, Canada

Which whales? Orca, grey, humpback, minke

Why it's a hotspot: Some 20,000 grey whales pass the island’s Pacific coast in spring; it also has resident orca – the most researched pods in the world 

Other wildlife? Salmon, sea otter, seal, sea lion, bald eagle 

Best for... Close-ups with orca in Johnstone Strait; spotting migrating greys, then attending the Pacific Rim Whale Festival (March)

When to go? March-April (grey); May-September (orca)

2. Québec, Canada

Fin whales, St Lawrence River (Shutterstock). © Provided by Wanderlust Fin whales, St Lawrence River (Shutterstock). Which whales? Blue, humpback, fin, minke, beluga

Why it's a hotspot: Three currents collide near Tadoussac in the Gulf of St Lawrence’s mouth, stimulating plankton development and providing a veritable feast for whales 

Other wildlife? Seal, porpoise, dolphin, snow goose (Mar-May & Oct) 

Best for... Spotting bright-white beluga – Saguenay Fjord is home to a resident population of these ‘sea canaries’

When to go? Best June-Sept

3. Iceland

Whale near Husavik, Iceland (Shutterstock). © Provided by Wanderlust Whale near Husavik, Iceland (Shutterstock). Which whales? Minke, humpback, blue, sperm, sei

Why it's a hotspot: The North Atlantic is a good feeding ground; whale-watching trips run from the west or north of the country – Húsavik is the main hub, but tours also leave from Reykjavík 

Other wildlife? Puffin, porpoise, dolphin 

Best for... Whalewatching under the midnight sun (June-July); visiting Húsavik Whale Museum

When to go? Best May-September; June-July (blue); May-August (puffin)

4.  Dominica

A young Humpback whale swims at the surface of the Caribbean Sea (Shutterstock). © Provided by Wanderlust A young Humpback whale swims at the surface of the Caribbean Sea (Shutterstock). Which whales? Sperm, humpback, short-finned pilot, false killer, melon head, pygmy sperm

Why it's a hotspot: Steep underwater drop-offs along the Nature Isle’s west coast create sheltered bays – ideal places for sperm whales to breed and calve 

Other wildlife? Dolphin, pelican, turtle 

Best for... Shore-based and boat-based sightings of resident sperm whales 

When to go? Year-round but best November-March (sperm); January-April (humpback)

5. Baja California, Mexico

Free diver with humpback whales off Mexico's Baja peninsula (Shutterstock). © Provided by Wanderlust Free diver with humpback whales off Mexico's Baja peninsula (Shutterstock). Which whales? Grey, blue, fin, Bryde’s, humpback, sperm, minke

Why it's a hotspot: Greys come to breed in San Ignacio Lagoon, on the Pacific coast; multiple species congregate in the food-rich Sea of Cortez 

Other wildlife? Dolphin, California sea lion, Guadalupe fur seal, northern elephant seal, blue-footed booby, frigatebird 

Best for... Eyeballing friendly greys, which bump right up against small boats and love to be hugged

When to go? Best February-April

6. Colombia

Whale in Utría National Park (Flickr: Creative Commons/Luis Alejandro Bernal Romero). © Provided by Wanderlust Whale in Utría National Park (Flickr: Creative Commons/Luis Alejandro Bernal Romero). Which whales? Humpback

Why it's a hotspot: Colombia’s Pacific coast is on a humpback migration route; sighting hotspots include Nuqui, Bahía Solano and Bahía Málaga. Combine the whales with a spot of jungle trekking 

Other wildlife? Turtle, dolphin, sea lion 

Best for... Taking boat trips to spot breaching humpbacks and mothers with calves

When to go? Best July-Nov (whales); Jan-July (turtle nesting)

7. Scotland

Whales in Chanonry Point, Fortrose, Scotland (Flickr: Creative Commons/Pete White). © Provided by Wanderlust Whales in Chanonry Point, Fortrose, Scotland (Flickr: Creative Commons/Pete White). Which whales? Minke, humpback, fin, sperm, orca

Why it's a hotspot: A third of the North Atlantic’s whale population migrates via western Scotland every year, while some species are resident year-round 

Other wildlife? Dolphin, porpoise, white-tailed eagle, puffin 

Best for... The possibility of large pods of orca, especially off Shetland; minke sightings off the Hebrides

When to go? Best May-October

8. Azores

Sperm whales in the Azores (Shutterstock). © Provided by Wanderlust Sperm whales in the Azores (Shutterstock). Which whales? Sperm, humpback, sei, bearded, blue, short-finned pilot, orca, fin

Why it's a hotspot: The remote archipelago sits in nutrient-rich waters; the seas sustain resident whale populations, while the islands are also visited by migrating species 

Other wildlife? Dolphin, turtle, manta ray, petrel, shearwater 

Best for... Seeing sperm whales spyhopping; swimming with dolphins; gazing out from vigias (whale observation posts)

When to go? Year-round (sperm); late March-early June (blue, fin, sei)

9. Western Cape, South Africa

Whale breach in Hermanus, South Africa (Shutterstock). © Provided by Wanderlust Whale breach in Hermanus, South Africa (Shutterstock). Which whales? Southern right, humpback, Bryde’s

Why it's a hotspot: Two oceans converge, resulting in a huge diversity of marine life; sheltered bays and warmer waters provide calving spots for migrating whales 

Other wildlife? Great white shark, dolphin, African penguin, Cape fur seal, black oystercatcher 

Best for... Shore-based spotting along the Whale Route; Hermanus Whale Festival (2-4 Oct 2015)

When to go? Best July-Nov; May-Dec (humpback)

10. Sri Lanka

Sperm whale in Sri Lanka (Shutterstock). © Provided by Wanderlust Sperm whale in Sri Lanka (Shutterstock). Which whales? Blue, sperm, humpback, Bryde’s

Why it's a hotspot: Sri Lanka’s southern tip nudges the depths of the continental shelf, favoured by blues; nowhere else does the world’s biggest creature swim so close to land, so reliably 

Other wildlife? Dolphin, turtle, flying fish 

Best for... Cruising out from Dondra Head to spot mighty blues

When to go? Best January-April

11. South Island, New Zealand

Humpback whale, New Zealand (Shutterstock). © Provided by Wanderlust Humpback whale, New Zealand (Shutterstock). Which whales? Sperm, blue, humpback, southern right, orca

Why it's a hotspot: Tectonic plates collide and ocean currents meet off Kaikoura, attracting an abundance of marine wildlife 

Other wildlife? Seal, dolphin, albatross, penguin, shearwater 

Best for... Sperm whales, which are present here year-round; swimming/snorkelling with huge pods of dolphin and playful seals 

When to go? Year-round (sperm); June-July (humpback); December- March (orca)

12. Tonga

Humpback whale, Tonga (Shutterstock). © Provided by Wanderlust Humpback whale, Tonga (Shutterstock). Which whales? Sperm, humpback

Why it's a hotspot: During the austral winter, humpbacks migrate from the South Pole to warmer Polynesian waters to mate and give birth 

Other wildlife? White-tip reef shark, black-tip reef shark 

Best for... Spotting humpback mothers with calves – and possibly jumping in to swim with them: this is one of the few places in the world where snorkelling with whales is permitted

When to go? Best July-October

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