Whale Watching: A Guide for First-Time Watchers


Whale watching is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allows you to observe some of the world’s most magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. However, for first-timers, knowing where and how to watch whales can be overwhelming. In this article, we will be sharing some tips and tricks on how to have an unforgettable whale watching experience. Whether you’re on a family vacation, an adventure-seeking traveler, or a nature lover, this guide will tell you everything you need to know before embarking on your first whale watching trip.

10 Tips for First-Time Whale Watchers

Before going on a whale watching excursion, it’s important to do proper research to increase your chances of seeing these magnificent creatures. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Choose the right time of year: Although different types of whales are seen in different countries and regions, most whales tend to migrate and stay in certain areas for certain times of the year. For example, humpback whales are visible off the east coast of Australia from May to November.
  • Wear weather-appropriate clothing: Dress in layers, and pack a waterproof jacket, hat, gloves, and sunglasses.
  • Choose a reputable whale watching company: Do your research and choose a company that provides a safe, sustainable, and ethical whale watching experience. Read reviews and check if they are registered with responsible whale watching organizations.
  • Check the weather forecast: Rough seas may not be comfortable for everyone, and it may be harder to spot whales in poor weather conditions.
  • Carry a motion sickness medication: Even if you do not usually get motion sickness, it’s a good idea to bring medication or patches.
  • Be patient: Whale watching is a waiting game. Sometimes, the whales stay hidden, and it may take time to spot them.
  • Bring a camera with you: You’ll want to capture the magical moments of the whales coming up from the water, blowing water from their blowholes, or breaching. Make sure you know your camera settings, so you can take great pictures despite the motion of the boat.
  • Bring a pair of binoculars: These can be especially helpful if you’re not as close to the whales as you would like to be.
  • Plan for a longer excursion: Whale watching tours can range from a few hours to a whole day. Planning for a longer excursion ensures you have a better chance to spot whales, and you can enjoy other marine wildlife sightings too.
  • Respect the whales and their habitat: Remember that these animals are wild and that they should be treated with respect. Boats should maintain a safe distance from whales, and you should not make loud noises or sudden movements that could startle them.

The Best Places to See Whales Around the World

Whale watching is a popular tourist activity, and there are many places you can observe these giants of the sea. Here are some top destinations for whale watching:

Alaska, USA

From May to September, humpback, orca, gray and Beluga whales can be seen in Alaska. The Inside Passage, Glacier Bay National Park, and Kenai Fjords National Park are popular spots to watch whales.


Iceland’s waters are some of the most productive whale-watching areas in the world, thanks to its nutrient-rich waters that attract several species of whales. Between April and September, you can spot orcas, humpback, Minke, and blue whales around the coast, along with dolphins and porpoises.

Kaikoura, New Zealand

Kaikoura is best known for its year-round population of sperm whales and being one of the most accessible places in the world to see them. Other species such as orcas, humpback, blue, and pilot whales are seen off the coast of New Zealand too.

The Azores, Portugal

The Azores is a group of nine volcanic islands in the mid-Atlantic, and the waters around these islands are home to 20 different species of whales and dolphins. The sighting rate of sperm whales near Pico Island is especially high, with regular sightings of humpbacks, beaked whales, and common and bottlenose dolphins.

Hervey Bay, Australia

From July to October, humpback whales are seen in the waters around Hervey Bay, and it is often referred to as the “whale watching capital of the world.”

Other popular whale watching spots include Sri Lanka, Norway, South Africa, Hawaii, and Canada.

Whale-Watching on a Budget

Whale watching is an extraordinary experience, but it can be expensive. If you are traveling on a budget, here are some tips to save your money:

  • Research discount deals and coupons for whale watching tours on websites like Groupon or LivingSocial.
  • Avoid peak seasons when prices are higher.
  • Find a tour operator that offers discounts for groups or children.
  • Consider taking a self-guided tour if possible, but make sure to follow local rules and regulations.
  • Bring your own snacks, water, and binoculars, rather than buying them on the tour.

What to Expect When Whale Watching

Whale watching is a wonderful way to experience the natural habitat of these magnificent creatures. Here are some things to expect on your trip:

  • The typical duration of a whale watching tour varies by location, but it usually lasts for a few hours to a whole day.
  • The boat you are on can vary from a small zodiac to a large catamaran or a high-speed boat.
  • You’ll often have a guide on board to give you information about the species you’re likely to encounter.
  • Cameras and binoculars are useful tools to bring with you on your whale watching excursion.
  • You can expect to experience different weather conditions depending on the time of year and geographic location.

Whale Watching with Kids

Whale watching can be a fantastic experience for families with children. Here are some tips on how to make the most out of your family whale watching experience:

  • Choose a kid-friendly tour that provides a shorter and family-oriented trip and involves activities such as coloring books and quizzes for children to enjoy.
  • Bring snacks and drinks that your children will enjoy.
  • Ensure that everyone on the tour is dressed appropriately as the weather can change very quickly in some locations.
  • Children should always be supervised and must follow the guidelines issued by the tour operator.
  • It’s a good idea to bring along some toys or games to keep your children occupied during the wait for the whales.

How to Be a Responsible Whale Watcher

As a responsible tourist, you can help protect whales and their habitat by following ethical whale watching practices. Here are some ways you can practice responsible whale watching:

  • Choose a tour operator that abides by ethical whale watching guidelines, which includes maintaining a safe distance from the whales and not harassing them.
  • Don’t litter or throw anything overboard that could harm the whales or their habitat.
  • Be aware of noise levels that could affect the whales’ feeding and communication.
  • Don’t purchase products made of whale parts, and don’t consume products that could contribute to the decline of the whales’ food supply.
  • Be mindful of the effects of climate change on the whales and their habitats.


Whale watching is an exciting and unforgettable experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Before you embark on your next whale watching adventure, do your research, plan appropriately, and choose a responsible tour operator. With these tips, you’ll be well prepared to ensure you have the adventure of a lifetime, while also contributing to the conservation of these magnificent creatures.

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