5 Islands for the Best Whale Watching

Ready to go whale watching? Here are the best islands to spot humpacks and gray whales.

October 14, 2016

Just like us, Moby Dick and his pals like to take a break from the cold and head south to the tropics. These spots offer great ops for whale watching while on your own winter escape.

Best whale watching islands
A humpback whale breaching. Shutterstock


Up to 12,000 kohola, or North Pacific humpbacks, migrate here from the Arctic between December and May, with numbers peaking in February. One of the best whale-watching spots is the protected channel between Maui, Molokai and Lanai. For a front-row seat, a sea kayak is the way to go. No motor, no crowd, and no noise — except for the whales themselves, as they exhale through their blowholes and slap fins and tail flukes on the surface.


It’s no fluke that Dominica is the whale-watching capital of the Caribbean — it’s one of the rare places where sperm whales live year-round. Don’t let their 67-foot frames fool you: The giants have a decidedly softer side. They “talk” in a kind of Morse code; if you’re lucky, you’ll hear it through your vessel’s hydrophone. From January to March, other whales hang in Dominica too, like humpbacks, pilot whales and false killer whales.


Dominican Republic

Between January and March, North Atlantic humpbacks gather by the hundreds in Samana Bay to mate and calve. They’re truly the acrobats of the whale world and — believe us — watching a 40-ton whale go airborne and backflip is scream-out-loud thrilling. Live aboard vessels offer weeklong trips to the Dominican Republic’s Silver Banks, 80 miles offshore, where you can go eyeball to giant eyeball with a humpback in the water off one of the best whale watching islands on the planet.

Baja, Mexico

Almost the entire population of gray whales travels 10,000 miles from the Arctic to mate in a handful of Baja bays. Book a trip between January and March on a panga, a low-to-the-water boat, and you’ll quickly see why they’re called “friendlies.” They’ll approach, maybe even gently nudge your boat, then hang out waiting to be scratched. The wow moment comes when a mom lifts up her calf so the youngster can get a look at us tourists.


Prime whale watching time isn’t until March and April, when humpbacks that wintered in the Caribbean cruise by on their way to their summer home in the North Atlantic. Opt for a glass-bottom-boat tour to see whales more than 100 feet below the surface. Sightings from land are also common. Bring binoculars and watch for their tall spouts of water vapor along the southern shore at spots like Church Bay and Whale Bay Beach (where else?).


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