The whale watching opportunities in Juneau are vast. This makes sense, given that Juneau is the largest city in southeast Alaska, and given that southeast Alaska is one of the best places in the world to whale watch. Humpback whales are the main focus of whale watching cruises in Juneau because they feed in great numbers in the waters surrounding the city, but it is also possible to see killer whales, along with a wide variety of other forms of marine life. Since there are so many different options to sift through, we composed the following guide to whale watching in Juneau, Alaska. By looking through our overview, you should be able to quickly determine the type of whale watching cruise you want to take, which will largely depend on the circumstances that bring you to Juneau.
Juneau is such a hotbed for whale watching because it happens to be a fairly major port for cruise ships. Thus, the city is regularly flooded with cruise vacationers, and the whale watching cruises cater to these people to a large extent. In fact, they often change around the time tables just to accommodate the cruise ships’ schedules. Orca Enterprises, for example, “operates several trips daily based on cruise ship schedules,” and although they have a regular sailing schedule posted on their website, departure times are bent in accordance with cruise ship schedules. Moreover, at least one company (Gastineau Guiding) specifically frames their whale watching cruises as “shore excursions” – i.e., the side trips people take when on a cruise vacation – despite the semantic confusion this entails. (To be sure, they do actually offer some excursions that take place on land in addition to the “shore excursions” offered on the water.) Other companies like Alaska Galore Tours offer a range of different tours in addition to whale watching cruises that are designed to draw in cruise vacationers on a temporary stop in Juneau.
Basically every company tries to tap into the flow of tourists provided by cruise lines, but there are some companies that are more oriented toward those who travel to Juneau independently. For example, you can take a private whale watching cruise with Juneau Whale, whose vessel only accommodates six people. Since cruise ships bring in such a large number of people, it seems unlikely that Juneau Whales goes after the passengers in the same way that some of the larger tour companies do. Alaska Fjordlines also operates independently of the cruise ships since this a ferry service the serves people traveling between Skagway, Haines, and Juneau, and their ferries operate on a fixed schedule.
Overall, then, whale watching in Juneau is largely centered on cruise vacationers, many of whom are in Juneau for less than a full day. The large influx of tourists brought in by the cruise lines also explains why there are so many whale watching companies in Juneau. However, it is not as if those who arrive to Juneau independently can’t whale watch. They can of course take the whale watching tours that the cruise vacationers take, and they can also make use of the other companies that are less hooked into the cruise lines’ schedules. For more general information, check out our article on whale watching in Alaska.