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The Best Whale-Watching Trips in North America

Giddy anticipation was the best way to describe the mood aboard. Passengers shared stories of their past whale sightings: thrilling moments when a humpback breached, an orca spyhopped or a grey simply flashed a tail fluke. One woman from Saskatchewan had never seen a whale in the wild: “It’s something I’ve dreamed of.” Read on for details on some great places for whale watching in North America. 

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Whale Watching in North America

Whale Watching in North America

You don’t necessarily have to travel the world to see these exotic creatures. There are lots of exciting choices for whale watching in North America. Tours can be found up and down the coasts and we’ve listed some great ones for your next adventure.

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Whale Watching in North America #1: Orcas (Killer Whales)

Whale Watching in North America #1: Orcas (Killer Whales)

Her words were barely spoken when her wish was granted-an orca surfaced a few hundred metres from our boat.

Whale watching in North America was commercialized in the mid-1950s, and since then its popularity has grown enormously. Latest figures show the compelling creatures draw more than 13 million spectators across 119 countries every year. And, when done right, whale viewing not only encourages conservation of whales, it protects our oceans.

In North America we’re especially fortunate-whales have made a remarkable comeback since the days when they were hunted to near extinction. And species including greys, humpbacks, minkes, belugas, blues, orcas and pilots are regularly sighted by whale-watching boats off our coasts.

Here are our picks for the best whale-watching experiences out there:

1. Orcas (Killer Whales)

Where to see them: British Columbia-the waters around Victoria are home to three resident pods.
When: They can be found year-round but the prime viewing months are May to October.
Cost: $120

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Whale Watching in North America: 2: Pacific Grey Whales

Whale Watching in North America: 2: Pacific Grey Whales

Where to see them: From Alaska to Mexico
When: Their 22,500-km round-trip migration route brings the whales close to Vancouver Island from March to May. In the winter they are found in their breeding grounds off Baja California, Mexico.
Cost: $40-$80

Some great whale watching in North Amierica can be found in British Columbia. On Vancouver Island, Remote Passages runs half-day whale-watching trips that travel through the waters of Clayoquot Sound to the grey whale feeding areas near Tofino. Aside from the greys you might also see humpbacks, orcas, sea lions, seals, porpoises as well as sea birds, including tufted puffins.

If you travel to Mexico, from January to March, thousands of greys enter the lagoons of Baja California for breeding and birthing. In the calm, clear waters of Magdalena Bay, MagBay Sports and Adventures offers three-hour excursions on small open boats out of San Carlos. You’ll be surrounded by dozens of calm, curious whales and in February you may even see an infant or two.

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 Whale Watching in North America #3: Humpback Whales

Whale Watching in North America #3: Humpback Whales

Where to see them: Hawaii and Mexico
When: January to March
Cost: Free to $80

Of the estimated 10,000 humpback whales in the world, about 2000 make the North Pacific their home, making it a great place for whale watching. These Pacific whales breed and give birth in the warm waters of Hawaii and Mexico (near Puerto Vallarta) in the winter. In Hawaii they are often close enough to the beach that the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary Ocean Count project offers the opportunity to monitor humpback whales from the shores of Oahu, Hawaii and Kauai on the last Saturday in January, February and March.
In Mexico, Ecotours de Vallarta‘s expert biologists provide a land-based lecture followed by a three-hour boat tour where you may see a range of spectacular humpback behaviors including breaching, tail slapping, playing or fighting.

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Whale Watching in Canada #4: Beluga Whales

Whale Watching in Canada #4: Beluga Whales

Where to see them: Northern Manitoba
When: July and August
Cost: $90-$170

Once Sea North Tours locates pod of beluga whales that are interested in hanging out with humans, you do more than whale watching! You can lower yourself into the cold North American water (while wearing the thickest wetsuit you’ve ever seen) and snorkel with the whales. While you’re immersed, curious whales will observe you at play and you’ll hear their vocalizations magnified through the water.

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Whale Watching in Canada #5: Finbacks

Whale Watching in Canada #5: Finbacks

Where to see them: Tadoussac, Quebec
When: May to October
Cost: $80

Tadoussac is the oldest village in Canada (over 400 years old) and is a spectacular, if chilly, base for whale watching in North America. You can set out by zodiac (a motorized rubber dinghy) for a wetter but more intimate encounter, or small ship for a warmer and more comfortable experience. The trip in search of the second largest (and second fastest) whale in the world starts in the Saguenay fjord. Finbacks feed in large groups-so if you get lucky you may sight several at once. You might also catch a glimpse of belugas, blues and humpbacks in these nutrient rich waters.

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Whale Watching in North America #6: Minkes and Pilots

Whale Watching in North America #6: Minkes and Pilots

Where: Pleasant Bay, Cape Breton
When: June to October
Cost: $40

Fiddlers from Cape Breton never stop making music-even when out on a boat looking for whales. On the two-hour excursions with Fiddlin’ Whale Tours you’ll be entertained by local musicians while encounter the small but playful minke and pilot whales. While the music plays, it may even lure a humpback or sei whale-and the on-board hydrophone lets you hear the sound of the whales when they approach.

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