What to Know Before You Go
What to Know Before You Go
Nothing compares to viewing an animal in their natural habitat. It’s a humbling experience, especially when it comes to whales, one of the more entertaining Alaska creatures to spot. When you go whale watching on an Alaska cruise, you could see a humpback breach, an orca pod on a hunt, or even a gargantuan blue whale zooming through the water. Alaska waters are known to host eight different species of whales inhabiting or migrating through its seas and fjords.
Your ship’s crew can answer many of your specific questions about whales onboard an Alaska cruise, but here are some of the most common questions about whale watching in Alaska.
You’re in luck. April to November is the best time to see whales in Alaska and that nicely aligns with the Alaska cruise season. Like most of us, whales enjoy Alaska in the spring and summer months, when the days are long and food is plentiful. Some whales are in Alaska year-round, while others migrate to the state during summer months.
If you’re dead set on seeing a specific kind of whale, read on for the best times to see whales in Alaska.
To fully immerse yourself in the Alaska whale watching season, set sail on your Alaska cruise between early May to early June for the best chances to watch orcas, who like to hang out near Juneau, Ketchikan, and Seward. You can identify these cunning carnivores by their black-and-white markings.
There are three orca subspecies—residents, transients, and offshore. Residents, as their name suggests, stay in their home turf and feed on various types of fish; some resident orcas almost exclusively eat salmon. Transient orcas eat mammals, such as harbor seals. Offshore orcas are elusive and live far from land. Little is known about offshore orcas’ preferences or family structure.
One last bit of trivia: Orcas aren’t whales at all; they’re the largest member of the dolphin family.
Every year in summer, more than 500 humpback whales glide into Alaska’s Inside Passage, like the wildlife version of spring break. Humpback whales are commonly spotted in June and July and are a joy to watch, especially if they’re bubble-net feeding. These dramatic performers like to leap out of the water and breach … just because they can! This is one of the more common whales you’ll see in Alaska.
Check out our Alaska Inside Passage Cruises with convenient departures from Seattle and Vancouver for the chance to see Humpback whales on Holland America Line adventures.
Blue whales "summer" in the eastern and northern Gulf of Alaska in July and August and are just returning to Alaska after extreme whaling drove almost the entire population to extinction.
Blue whales are the largest of all whales and the biggest and loudest animal on earth today—possibly of all time.
Imagine three school buses, all lined up—that’s the length of a blue whale. Their tongues weigh as much as a full-grown elephant. As big and glorious as they are, it’s rare to spot blue whales while whale watching in Alaska.
Blue whales favor open waters and are rarely seen from shore.
Resident belugas are commonly seen in Alaska mid-July to August, snacking on the hooligan and salmon in the silty waters of Turnagain Arm. These cream-colored, smiley whales are not only conventionally the cutest, but also the best singers—the belugas’ vocal range has earned them the nickname "canaries of the sea."
The weight of a school bus and weighing in at 30 tons, gray whales tend to follow Alaska’s outer coast. These whales swim cape to cape across the openings of fjords and bays. Their spring trips skirt Alaska in April and June, with the largest concentration of gray whales passing the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak areas during the month of May.
The crew notifies passengers of whale sightings, but if you have a verandah, spend some time scanning the ocean for the signature plume of water—it’s often the first thing you see. Holland America Line ships are perfectly mid-sized and have wide-open decks, so you’ll enjoy Alaska wildlife sightings with a little extra space. When you first board, scope out viewing areas so that you’re prepared to beeline to them when those magical Alaska whale watching moments occur.
To appropriately prepare for the Alaska whale watching season, pack to spend a few hours in windy and chilly outdoor weather on an observation deck. Bring a warm, waterproof jacket, and touchscreen gloves. Wear comfy walking shoes with good traction in case it gets slippery. Bring binoculars and a camera with a telephoto lens. Without a decent camera and a long lens, it’s near impossible to get amazing shots of Alaska whales, as all boats are required by Alaskan law and international agreements to stay at least 100 yards away from whales. Find out ahead of time if the Alaska whale watching tour provides a meal and plan to bring lunch if not.
Book Alaska shore excursions from Juneau, Sitka, or Icy Strait Point for the best whale watching in Alaska. Whale sightings in Alaska are so frequent during certain times of the year that some tours guarantee at least one sighting.
Whether it’s a lone humpback or a pod of orcas, every whale sighting leaves a life-long impression. Ready to experience it for yourself? Start planning your whale watching cruise today.
Marvel at the diverse wildlife the Great Land has to offer as a shore excursion on an Alaskan cruise. Excursions depart from the cruise port of Juneau, Alaska.
Convinced? If you’re ready to see Alaska whales up close, here are some of the many unique experiences you can take:
Learn how luxury makes a difference on the All-Inclusive Luxury Whale Watch. Climb aboard the only luxury whale-watching day-yacht in Alaska, and keep your eye out for orcas, and humpback whales.
On the Mendenhall Glacier & Whale Quest, board a water-jet catamaran, designed for wildlife viewing. Sit back, and relax in the comfortable cabins as you cruise through Stephens Passage, a favored summer feeding ground for humpback whales.
Get a truly intimate humpback whale viewing experience on Alaska's Whales & Mendenhall Glacier Trail: Small-Group Experience. Away from the crowds, you’ll explore marine wildlife on a custom-built safari vessel.
Experience Juneau’s highlights on the Best of Juneau: Whale Watching, Mendenhall Glacier & Orca Point Lodge Meal tour. A expert on-board will dive into the fascinating behavior and habitat of humpback and killer whales, among other wildlife.
Discover all our Alaska whale watching shore excursions on an unforgettable trip to the Great Land.