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An orca breaches in the Pacific ocean

Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii

Where to Go Whale Watching in the Western USA

By: Emily H. Bratcher

Shawn McCready
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  • States:
    Alaska
    Washington
    Oregon
    California
    Hawaii

Ahab, the main character in Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick, isn't the only person on the lookout for whales.

Every year, people from all over the world flock to the USA’s Pacific coastlines, with hopes of spotting a tail or a spout of a leviathan. Depending on where you visit, you can spot a whale at any time of year.

We’ve rounded up five incredible whale-watching spots along the Pacific, from Alaska to Hawaii; we’ve included the best times and the best ways to increase your chances of a sighting.

Juneau, Alaska

Peak Whale-Watching Times: April to November

 

Juneau, Alaska, is one of the most beautiful capital cities in the USA, with its quaint streets, scenic waterfront and snow-capped mountains. And, as you might imagine, Juneau is also a thrilling place to embark on a whale-watching trip.

Only accessible by plane or boat, Juneau is tucked away alongside the west coast of Canada on what's known as the Alaskan Panhandle. One of the best places to view the many humpback whales from land is the Shrine of St. Therese, about 35 kilometers northwest of the city. To see orcas, or killer whales, it’s best to take to the seas. Hop aboard a tour boat in downtown Juneau.

You can spot humpback whales breaching in the waters surrounding Alaska’s remote capital city, Juneau.

You can spot humpback whales breaching in the waters surrounding Alaska’s remote capital city, Juneau.
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San Juan Islands, Washington

Peak Whale-Watching Times: Mid-May to Mid-October

 

In the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, about 170 kilometers northwest of Seattle, Washington, are the San Juan Islands. These verdant islands and the sparkling waters surrounding them make a spectacular setting to view orcas. Nearby Lime Kiln Point State Park is a great place to view the black-and-white whales from the shore. You’ll also have your pick of boat charters in this area. Plan your visit between mid-May and mid-October, and many tour companies claim you’ll have a 90 percent chance of spotting whales from the boat deck.

Head to Washington’s San Juan Island between May and October to catch sight of orcas playing in the water.

Head to Washington’s San Juan Island between May and October to catch sight of orcas playing in the water.
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Depoe Bay, Oregon

Peak Whale-Watching Times: Mid-December to February, March to June

 

Oregon features sprawling coastlines that beckon to whale-watchers. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Whale Watching Center on Depoe Bay, about 160 kilometers southeast of Portland, is a great place to see gray whales making their bi-yearly migrations between Alaska and Mexico. Should you want to get a little closer to some of the nearly 18,000 whales that swim by the Oregon coast, there are a number of boat tours that can get you closer to the action. Though you may be more likely to catch sight of whales during the winter and spring/summer migrations, you might spot one or two during the rest of the year as well. There are an estimated 200 whales that consider the waters of the Oregon coast home between June and October.

Scenic Depoe Bay on Oregon’s northern coast is a prime place to spot gray whales during migration season.

Scenic Depoe Bay on Oregon’s northern coast is a prime place to spot gray whales during migration season.
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Monterey Bay, California

Peak Whale-Watching Times: Year-round

 

Monterey Bay along California’s central coast is famous for its artsy culture and its whale-watching opportunities. Liz Love of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary says the Lighthouse Point, also known as Point Santa Cruz, is a great place to see whales from the shore. At different points of the year, humpback whales, blue whales, orcas and gray whales can be seen from this vantage point. But you are almost guaranteed to see whales if you hop aboard one of the many tour charters located here and in the nearby beach town of Monterey Bay.

Keep your eyes peeled for whales as you enjoy the waters of Monterey Bay, California.

Keep your eyes peeled for whales as you enjoy the waters of Monterey Bay, California.
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Hawaii

Peak Whale-Watching Times: December to May

 

Hawaii is a fine place to catch sight of whales. In fact, Tori Cullins, a U.S. Coast Guard captain and marine biologist with the charter company, Wild Side Hawaii, noted that "18 species of toothed whales and at least six species of baleen whales have been documented in Hawaiian waters." Enormous humpback whales are some of the most commonly seen, and they can even be viewed from shore between January and March. Head to the Makapuu Point Lighthouse on the eastern tip of the island (about 25 kilometers east of Honolulu) to see humpbacks from shore.

The waters surrounding Oahu, Hawaii, are filled with numerous species of whales, including these giant humpbacks.

The waters surrounding Oahu, Hawaii, are filled with numerous species of whales, including these giant humpbacks.
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Travel Tip

No matter where you choose to look for whales, heed the advice of Donna Redstone of the Oceanic Society: Consider taking seasickness medicine before setting sail and be sure to dress warmly, wear sunscreen and bring sunglasses, as the sun reflecting off the water can be bright.

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