Whale watching - Where to spot whale species worldwide

Whales have held our fascination and imagination for centuries. These mysterious animals have a language all of their own, and to hear their melancholy tone as they sing underwater is one of life’s rare treats. Whales are highly intelligent, social animals and continue to surprise those who study their behaviors and, because of this, are wonderful to view both above and below the water.

Whales do not like the bubbles from scuba equipment, so swimming or watching them from the water's surface is the best way to encounter these mammals. While swimming with whales is an incredible experience, watching whales above the water is equally as fantastic. The sound of a humpback whale exhaling through its blowhole as it surfaces beside a liveaboard is a sound that brings as much excitement as hearing these massive creatures underwater. Watching a 30-tonne creature leap from the ocean with such ease and grace is unforgettable. Booking a liveaboard during whale season means you will likely enjoy experiences such as this, as whales are inquisitive and will often come over to inspect the boat.

There are more than 70 species of whale that have been identified so far (and seeing as we know more about space than the deepest depths of the ocean, perhaps there are more), and these species can be spotted in locations all around the globe on their annual migration.

Humpback whales

humpback whale calf
A humpback whale calf up close and personal!

Humpback whales can grow to be the size of a bus and usually migrate around 25,000 kilometers yearly! Known best for the captivating sounds of their song (which only the male sings), these whales feed in freezing polar waters during summer, then journey to the tropical areas of the ocean to breed and calve.

You can watch these cetaceans feed in Canada and North America, but if you want some really intimate whale-watching encounters, the best place to see them (above and below the surface) is when they are breeding and have had their young. In places like the Kingdom of Tonga, Australia, the Dominican Republic, Hawaii, and Mexico, you can watch these animals in the wild as they nurture their calves and enjoy the warmer water temperatures.

Dwarf Minke Whales

dwarf minke whale and snorkeller on the great barrier reef
A snorkeler observes a dwarf minke whale onboard 'Spoilsport'

These adorable whales may be on the smaller end of the whale scale, yet they can still grow to 8 meters and weigh several tonnes. Dwarf Minke Whales were only discovered during the eighties and are considered descendants of the Northern Hemisphere minke whale.

You can spot these cute whales on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, from May to August every year. Liveaboards that operate in the area, such as Spoilsport, offer itineraries dedicated to getting you in the water with the whales as much as possible.

Grey Whale

Grey whale partially above surface
Whale playing peek-a-boo

Grey Whales travel further than any mammal, swimming thousands of kilometers from feeding to breeding grounds annually. These whales are some of the friendliest around, often allowing visitors to stroke them as they lay motionless on the surface beside the boat. From February to the end of April every year, you can spot these whales off the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. You’ll also have the chance to spot humpback whales and gargantuan blue whales at this time.

Blue Whales

Despite being the largest whale of all, this one is also the rarest to encounter. The largest animal to have ever lived on Earth, the Blue Whale can reach a whopping 200 tonnes and grow to more than 30 meters long! Ironically, the largest animal in the sea eats one of the tiniest and devours more than 4 tonnes of Krill daily.

Along with humpback and grey whales, you can have the chance to see blue whales in Baja California, Mexico, between February and March. The Baja Peninsula, surrounding Socorro Islands, and the Sea of Cortez are some of the most spectacular diving in the world. Here divers can come face to face with some of the largest species in the ocean, such as mantas, dolphins, sea lions, and of course, whales.

Whale sharks

whale shark and diver by Ray Auxillou
A whale shark and snorkeler. Photo by Ray Auxillou

Okay, you’re right. These aren’t whales. They’re fish and the biggest fish in the sea at that. These mammoth and totally harmless sharks are filter feeders and use their enormous mouths as giant nets to scoop plankton from the surface.

Watching whale sharks is best done in the water, snorkeling beside them, in places like the Maldives, Thailand, and Indonesia.