Geography

5 places to see whales migrating this spring

Every spring, whales across the world make a great journey from the cold, icy waters to warmer shores. Most whales prefer feeding in cold-water regions, where krill and other food is plentiful. But when it comes to mating and calving, the warm water is the place to be. Young whale calves can’t survive in the cold waters until their blubber comes in full, so whales need to migrate each season to raise their young.

Seeing a whale in the wild is a breathtaking experience, and while specific migration patterns vary across whale species, these five spots are reliable locations for whale migration watching in spring.

1. Juneau, Alaska

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As spring rolls in, humpback whales and orcas begin their migration, taking them near the waters of Juneau, Alaska. This is one of the best whale watching locations in the country. There are plenty of great whale watching tours that take you up close to the action, giving you some of the most detailed and exciting whale watching you’ll see. But even if you’re not comfortable on the water, there are some great dry land locations where visitors can lay down some shade and watch the playful whales from a distance. Best of all, the whales in this area are active throughout all of the spring and summer seasons, so you’ll have plenty of time to make it up there.

2. Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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For those of you closer to the east coast, we’d recommend checking out Cape Cod and the world-famous Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. This protected region encompasses migration paths of humpbacks, minkes, finbacks and pilot whales, so there’s plenty to see—as long as you don’t mind waiting in line behind all the other tourists hoping to catch a glimpse. Show up early and don’t be afraid to choose a smaller cruise for your sightseeing. The National Marine Sanctuary has plenty to see, so you won’t be disappointed.

3. Monterey, California

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How about something for those in the southwest? The Californian coast is a great place to watch migrating whales, from San Diego to Los Angeles to Monterey Bay. While you can find whales along the coast in almost any season, Monterey Bay is a prime location for spring whale watching. Humpbacks, finbacks, and even the rare blue whale can be seen in the spring season, as these creatures travel from cold, northern waters into the warm waters of the Mexican coast. And even if you don’t see a whale, don’t worry. The nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best in California, serving as a great backup option when the wild whales don’t cooperate.  

4. Depoe Bay, Oregon

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Called “the whale watching capital of the Oregon coast,” Depoe Bay is a premier whale watching destination for the northwest United States. Resident pods of grey whales make their home nearby, and the coast is a prime location along western migratory routes. Plus, Depoe Bay is an unnaturally small harbor, so there’s not much room for boats to navigate. For whale watchers, this means that you can travel from the dock to prime whale watching waters in minutes. And while you’re there, keep an eye out for the famous “spouting horns”—huge fountains of water that burst from the ocean as high as 60 feet in the air. These are harmless phenomena caused by underwater waves running beneath lava beds, but they’re exciting additions to any whale migration watching trip.

5. Eastsound, Orcas Island, Washington

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Sure, orcas are closer to dolphins than actual whales, but let’s not split hairs. Seeing a pod of orcas cut through the water with their black fins rising from the surface is a must-see experience, and there’s no better place to see it than the aptly-named Orcas Island. Nestled in the larger San Juan Islands, it’s common to see plenty of orcas, finbacks and humpback whales traveling through the region. Typically, this is a blend of whales that make their home in the area and migrants traveling through.

The best spots for whale watching

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Whales are some of the most majestic creatures on earth, but so few of us ever get a chance to see one in person. That is, unless you take advantage of one of the above locations. Keep these destinations in mind as you make your spring travel plans!