Given its enormous shoreline and the pristine waters off its coast, Alaska is a natural place for whale watching. If you are near the coast and some sign of civilization, there is a decent chance that a company nearby is operating whale watching cruises. However, Alaska is a massive state whose shoreline is exposed to a vast swath of the Pacific Ocean, so it is hard to keep track of all the whale watching opportunities in the state. A search for “whale watching cruises in Alaska” will bring up a crippling flood of information. For this reason, we thought it would be helpful to organize some of the basics about whale watching in Alaska in one brief article, covering what whales you can see and some of the general places you can whale watch.
With few exceptions, whale watching cruises are offered in accordance with the rhythms of whale migrations. There are some places where whales reside all year – this is the case around the San Juan Islands, where there are resident pods of killer whales – but most whales move around on a seasonable basis, and whale watching cruises must plan their sailings accordingly. Since the waters off the Alaskan coast are quite cold, whales tend to feed in these areas during the summer months. Grey whales, for example, will feed in the Bering and Chukchi Seas for the summer. They arrive in this area in late spring or early summer, and thus whale watching companies will aim to see grey whales passing by the coast on their northern migration during this time of year. As the summer unfolds, other whale species are targeted, including humpbacks, belugas, and killer whales, which all feed off the the Alaskan coast during the summer. As fall sets in, the whales start to depart, and the whale watching cruises wrap up around this time as well.
A successful whale watching outfit (in terms of its ability to spot whales) could essentially be set up anywhere along the Alaskan coast, but Alaska is a sparsely populated state, and obviously whale watching companies set up in areas where there are at least some humans. This means that these companies are scattered along the coast, and since so many of Alaska’s coastal towns are small, a good portion of places have only one whale watching outfit. (In a place like California, it isn’t unusual for several whale watching companies to compete against each other in the same town or city.) There seem to be more companies as you move south, and so there are a number of whale watching outfits in the southeastern region of the state, in the skinny stretch of land that borders Canada to the east and the ocean to the west. (Juneau, the capital of Alaska, is in this area, for example.) There are also plenty of whale watching companies along the southern coast of the state – the part that is directly to the north of the Gulf of Alaska, and where Anchorage is located. The majority of whale watching takes place in this area, so this is probably where you’ll find a cruise, and in fact there aren’t really whale watching cruises as you move further north.
Overall, Alaska is an excellent place to whale watch, and there are plenty of cruises to pick from. However, you must go during the right time of year, and you also have to make sure you are in the right places, where there are companies dedicated to whale watching.
For a list of whale watching cruises in specific parts of Alaska, please search our site for “Alaska.”