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Top 5 Places in the World for Whale Watching

by Rianne Ojeh on 30 September 2013, 14:09PM

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Watching a whale burst through the water's surface is a fascinating and unforgettable sight. There's something quite magical about seeing the largest mammal in their natural environment, at its most glorious. Whale-watching is one of the most popular wildlife experiences, but you might be surprised by how many countries have these gentle giants in their waters. So when you're planning your holiday, you might want to think about where are the best places to see wild whales. To give you a headstart, we've rounded up our five favourite destinations for whale-watching.

 

1. Hermanus, South Africa

South Africa prides itself on some of the best land-based whale-watching in the world. From August-November, hundreds of Southern Right whales find their way each year to Walker’s Bay in Hermanus, making the town the whale-watching capital of South Africa. The whales can be seen from the cliffs in the town centre as early as June and usually depart in early December. At the end of September the town celebrates the passing whales during the Tow Oceans Whale Watching festival. In Hermanus you will also find the world's only whale crier. He patrols the streets of the town blowing his kelp horn and alerting everyone to the whereabouts of the Whales. Different horn codes refer to different spots along the coastline, where Whales have been spotted.


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2. Quebec, Canada

The waters of the St. Lawrence in Québec are one of the few places in the world where you can see such a wide variety of whales. They are attracted by the river's wealth of shellfish, which they feast on and by its impressive depth! The blue whale and fin whales can be found here as well as numerous species of rorqual including the humpback whale, known for its exuberant leaps through the air. In addition to these giants, you might see porpoises and dolphins and probably will catch a flash of white floating on the waves: these are belugas, the small arctic whales that live in the St. Lawrence year-round. About 1,000 belugas inhabit the river; however, they are an endangered species.

Many ports in the St. Lawrence estuary on the river's north and south shores, offer whale watching excursions daily from May to October on board boats of every size. The preferred spots are the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada (Duplessis) and the Forillon National Park of Canada, in the Gaspésie. Québec is known for its knowledgeable interpretation guides on these cruises, who provide information not only on the whales, but on their habitat and other ecotourism topics as well. In some spots, the river is so deep near the shore that you can regularly see whales without leaving the shoreline. Places where this is possible include the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord, Cap-de-Bon-Désir (Bergeronnes), two sites in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, and Pointe des Monts (Duplessis).

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3. California, USA

The rich feeding grounds of the Sea of Cortex off California and the sheltered bays along the Pacific coast combine to produce superb whale-watching experiences. Whale watching in Santa Cruz County offers a phenomenal experience, with some of the best views of the California Gray Whale, as they pass through the waters of Santa Cruz on their annual migration from Alaska to Mexico in the winter months. In the spring, humpback whales return to Santa Cruz as they search for food in the nutrient-rich waters of the Monterey Bay. Observers can expect an animated show and it’s not uncommon to get sprayed by a humpback as they exhale on their way around the boat.  Santa Cruz Whale Watching offers daily whale watching tours of the bay on board the Velocity, their newest 60 foot long 64 passenger charter boat. An abundance of sea otters, dolphins, blue whales, porpoises, sea lions and a variety of ocean birds can be spotted as well in the unique ecosystem of The Monterey Bay, so hop on-board to experience some of the best whale watching California has to offer.

4. Western Australia

You can spot different types of whales throughout the year in Western Australia.  Between April and July, whale sharks visit Exmouth to feed on zooplankton that thrives in the warm water. Despite their name, whale sharks are actually the world's biggest fish, growing up to 18m in length. Whale sharks swim the world looking for concentrations of food. Ningaloo Reef is one of the only places they return to regularly, in large numbers. From early June to September is the best time to see humpback and southern right whales cavorting in Flinders Bay Augusta as they head for warm waters to mate and breed. Then from September to December, head to Dunsborough and Busselton to see humpback and rare blue whales with their calves take refuge in the calm waters of Geographe Bay.

If you're headed to the Kimberley region of WA, don't miss the fantastic humpback whale displays. From June to November you can see the humpback whales migrate northwards along the coast to shelter in Camden Sound on the Kimberley coast, as well as Pender Bay and the sheltered waters directly off Broome's coast, where females give birth and suckle their young.

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Kaikoura, New Zealand

The picturesque coastal town of Kaikoura is a two-hour drive north of Christchurch in New Zealand. It is set in the protective shelter of the Kaikoura Peninsula offering a plethora of marine activities of which whale watching is the highlight. About a kilometre off the Kaikoura Coast, the Kaikoura Canyon and 1,000 metre deep Hikurangi Trench are formed by a maze of underwater troughs and canyons. The warm waters of these canyons combined with the cold waters of the Antarctic form an ideal location for a huge variety of marine life. Gigantic sperm whales and dolphins inhabit these waters all year round while migratory humpback whales appear in June and July. The orca can be seen between December and February. The mammals come here lured by the abundance of easy food and humans get an amazing opportunity to watch these majestic marine mammals at close range.

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