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The Best Whale Watching In Alaska

If you are a wildlife lover, Alaska is the state for you!

There is nothing quite like seeing Earth’s largest mammals breach and jump from the water, and hearing their beautiful songs.

We are talking, of course, about whales!

Alaska has over 6,600 miles of coastline, which means tons of great locations to whale watch in our clear, cold waters. You can plan your own route if there are certain species to check off your bucket list, or go with a professional and book with one of Alaska’s many incredible whale watching tours just about any small town on the coast of Alaska.

Whether you are new to whale watching, or a seasoned professional looking for the next great tour, we have put together a complete guide to whale watching in Alaska.

You can spot any number of whales, regardless of whether you are basing yourself out of Seward, Juneau, Valdez, Skagway, Sitka, Kodiak, or Whittier.

No matter where you are, there is a tour for you!

Whale Tail In Alaska
Jordan Confino Elevatedphotopro.com

When Is Whale Watching Season In Alaska?

While you could conceivably run into whales all year long, especially Orca whales, which have been spotted in our bays and inlets every month of the year – May through September is when you will see the most diverse array of whales in Alaska.

Alaska’s warm weather during the summer months accounts for an extreme abundance of fish. Our seafood rich waters don’t just attract fishermen, they are a big draw for whales, too!

These large whales, some of which can come in at a whopping 29 tons, need to store up on large amounts of fish and squid each season. Luckily, Alaska can provide everything these whales need for the coming year.

During the colder winter months, most whale species will migrate south to the warmer waters near Mexico and Central America. When spring comes around and it begins to warm up again, they will make the roughly 3,000 mile journey back to Alaska where they will stay for the season, to fill up on our famous seafood.

These months are also a great time to spot whales because of our long daylight hours. During the height of summer, many of the coastal areas of Alaska see almost 24 hours of daylight.

That means an early morning whale tour, or one in the late afternoon or early evening, will be perfectly fine to spot whales.

What Types of Whales Will I See In Alaska?

Our marine waters are absolutely chock full of whale activity all summer long.

Gray whales are typically the first to arrive in Alaska around April.

In May, Orcas migrate further up north.

Finally, the Humpback whales come in June.

Blue whales, Sperm whales, and Minke whales are more rare, but have been spotted in Alaska’s icy waters.

Belugas are common in the summer and fall months in Cook Inlet, but can be spotted year round down south around the waters of the Shelikof Strait. And Narwhals are exclusive to areas around the world with sea ice, never migrating.

In short? Many of the world’s species of whales find a seasonal summer home in Alaska. There are also some whales that are difficult to find anywhere else besides extremely cold waters, like the Narwhale or Orca.

Gray Whales

Gray whales are one of the most beautiful whales that frequent Alaskan waters. With life spans of 50-60 years, these gentle giants are known to travel in small pods. During the summer time, an adult male Gray whale can eat up to 2,700 pounds of day.

These gentle giants are 45 feet long and travel over 11,000 miles from Baja California Mexico up to Alaska and back each year. They are also incredibly protective of their calves, and will attack boats if they get too close to their young.

  • Best Viewing Time Of Gray Whales: During the months of April and May in Ketchikan, Sitka, Kodiak, or Seward.

Orcas (Killer Whales)

Orcas are one of the most recognizable whale species due to their distinctive black and white markings. Unlike their other whale relatives, Orcas will eat seals, birds, walruses, and even occasionally, other whales.

Easily one of the ocean’s most intelligent predators, killer whales swim through Alaska’s bays and inlets all year long. They are secretive and love hunting salmon through the summer, as well as forming together as a pod to hunt larger prey, sometimes even Humpback whales.

  • Best Viewing Time of Orca Whales: During the months of May through June, you can find Orca whales in the waters of Resurrection Bay, as well as throughout Southeast Alaska. You will find the largest population around Juneau and Ketchikan.

Humpback Whales

Humpback whales travel nonstop for 3,000 miles from Hawaii to reach their summer feeding grounds in Alaska. Over 10,000 Humpback whales make the trip to Alaska each year.

The Humpback is a species of Baleen whale. You can probably recognize it due to its unusual body shape with a curved midsection and small head. The males create songs that can last up to 33 minutes, and they measure up to 60 feet long and 40 tons heavy.

  • Best Viewing Time Of Humpback Whales: During the months of May through August, you can find them along the Aleutian Islands, in Prince William Sound, around Southeast Alaska, Kodiak Island, and the Barren Islands.

Blue Whales

Blue whales are known to be the largest animal that has ever existed.

This incredible whale is also a species of Baleen whales. Unlike the Humpbacks, they have a long and lean body shape. Seeing these big, beautiful animals are good luck if you are whale watching.

Because of their massive size, these giants tend to only be seen in the open waters of Alaska.

  • Best Viewing Time Of Blue Whales: During the months of July through August on the northern and eastern portion of the Gulf of Alaska.

Sperm Whales

Sperm whales are one of the endangered species in Alaska. They are one of the most elusive whales on the planet, and live in water thousands of meters deep, and are rarely seen along the coastline.

Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales with a diet consisting mainly of cephalopods including the Giant Squid. They are prolific predators and can stay underwater for over two hours.

Although there aren’t many sperm whales seen, they have been recorded in Alaska all year long – researchers see them more often in the summer months.

  • Best Viewing Time of Sperm Whales: During the months of May through September in the Gulf of Alaska.

Minke Whales 

The Minke whale is the smallest of the Baleen whales. They can be seen emerging from the water snout-first, or hanging out near the water to investigate nearby boats and sea creatures.

They are smaller whales, and tend to mimic behavior closer to dolphins. They will frequently approach ships curiously, but don’t ride the waves the way dolphins do.

  • Best Viewing Times of Minke Whales: During the months of June through August in the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, and in the waters of Southeast Alaska.

Narwhals

Narwhals are the famous whale with a long horn on its head. They grow to about 17 feet in length on average, and their tusk can be as long as 9 feet. They can weigh up to 2 tons.

While they normally hang out in the Chukchi and Bering seas, they have been seen as far south as the Alaska Peninsula. They prefer an icy habitat, however, and those seen that far south are considered vagrants.

  • Best Viewing Times Of Narwhals: During the months of June through August, east of Point Barrow.

Beluga Whales

The interesting Beluga whale, with its telltale white, large head, is a frequent visitor to Alaska’s waters. You can spot them in the Cook Inlet, Beaufort Sea, Bristol Bay, eastern Bering Sea, and the eastern Chukchi Sea.

The small pod in the Cook Inlet numbers about 312 members, and are actually labeled as critically endangered. Spotting them is a privilege, so hop in your car and head on out to Beluga Point on the Seward Highway.

Interesting fact: their closest relative is the Narwhal.

  • Best Viewing Times Of Beluga Whales: During the months of June through August, best seen in the Cook Inlet outside of Anchorage.

Fin Whales

Fin whales are the second largest species of whale, beat out only by the Blue whale. Because of their size, you will frequently find them in the deep waters of Alaska’s nearby oceans. They love residing in the Polar regions, and will head all the way up to the Bering Sea.

Fin whales are surprisingly friendly, and if you are on a boat in deep waters outside of the bays and inlets of Alaska, you may just spot one.

  • Best Viewing Times Of Fin Whales: During the months of May through June.

Where is the Best Place to Spot Whales In Alaska?

If you are on the coast during peak season, you will probably get some great sightings of whales.

If you want to get a little bit closer, a boat tour is your best option. There are many different boat tours available to take all across the coastal communities of Alaska.

The Inside Passage

Juneau is the primary whale spotting location in Alaska. The Orca, also known as a killer whale, is known to make these waters home during the summer months. Many visitors to Alaska have the opportunity to see whales in the Inside Passage when they arrive on a cruise ship.

But that’s not the only reason why you are more likely to see whales when traveling the Inside Passage. This area is filled with Humpback whales, who spend six month of the year dining on the wide array of seafood found in the Inside Passage.

In fact, many of the Juneau tour operators guarantee the chance to see a whale because there are so many of them.

Resurrection Bay

This popular spot is one of the most famous places to go whale watching in the state of Alaska. Resurrection Bay is a favorite whale watching location, especially for those who want to soak up everything Resurrection Bay has to offer.

This is a great spot with lots of access to tours and sighting opportunities. You are most likely going to see Orca and Humpback whales, but Minke, Fin, and Gray whales have also been seen here.

Resurrection Bay is also home to the whale’s cousins, the Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall’s Porpoises, or Harbor Porpoises.

The Bay is rich in marine wildlife, and a tour through here gives you many different wildlife viewing options.

Kachemak Bay

Kachemak Bay is a favorite whale watching location.

The pods of Orca Whales are the most thrilling for visitors. Oftentimes you can hear people talk of sighting Orca Whales right off the beach in front of Land’s End Resort in Homer. And some have even seen them while dining in their restaurant.

Any of the small whale watching boat tours from Homer will give you a great chance to check out the whales in the Bay. And even a quick boat taxi ride may stumble upon a passing pod.

Turnagain Arm

Turnagain Arm is the number one spot in the state of Alaska for catching a glimpse of a pod of Beluga whales. As they swim pretty close to shore and come in (or leave) on the tide, you might be able to catch a glimpse of them, or hear their songs from land.

In fact, one of the best places to spot Beluga whales in the Turnagain Arm is at the aptly named Beluga Point. Pull over in the parking lot, stay off the railroad tracks, and wait for a moment to see if a pod of white cresting Beluga whales makes its way past you.

Because of Turnagain Arm’s tides, it is rare to spot other types of whales in the area. And for the best Beluga whale spotting, make sure the tide is high. Otherwise they won’t be able to get close enough to view from the road.

  • Address to Beluga Point: Mile 110, Seward Hwy, Anchorage, AK 99516
Whale Deep Diving In Alaska
Deon van Zyl

Where Should I Take A Whale Watching Tour?

There are great places to see whales in Alaska all over the coastline. But we rounded up some of the very best tour operators in popular whale watching spots to give you a great idea of where to start.

Seward, Alaska

1.) Major Marine Tours

Major Marine Tours offers both full and half-day wildlife watching adventures. Cruise through Kenai Fjords National Park on a 4 or 8.5 hour adventure to see whales, sea otters, glaciers, and more.

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2.) Seward Wildlife Tours

With Seward Wildlife Tours, you can get an expertly guided small tour, with less than six people, so you can customize your itinerary and see the best spots for whale watching.

They run from April through September, so you will get the chance to see the whales in the off-season, too, when it is a little quieter in the area.

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3.) Kenai Fjords Tours  

Kenai Fjords Tours is Alaska’s #1 glacier and wildlife cruise. They are the most famous of the whale watching tours out of Seward, and offer multiple tours a day for you to get out into Resurrection Bay.

They have been operating their tours since 1974, and offer more than half a dozen different tours into the waters surrounding Seward.

Our favorite is the Gray whale tour in late spring, devoid of many tourists and packed full of plenty of Gray whales to see.

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4.) Northern Latitude Adventures 

Northern Latitude Adventures offers small group glacier and wildlife tours in Resurrection Bay. They limit their cruises to six guests or less, providing an intimate adventure, smaller boat, and the chance to get up closer to the action.

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5.) Seward Ocean Excursions

Seward Ocean Excursions offers year round tours out on the waters of Resurrection Bay. They offer trips aboard their three boats, and offer a personalized excursion for those looking to have a custom experience on the water.  They also cap their guests at six people per boat, so you can have a small and detailed experience.

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6.) Alaska Saltwater Tours

Hit the water for a full-day tour with Alaska Saltwater Tours. Not only will you be deep in Kenai Fjords National Park, but you will probably see some other cute critters like porpoises and sea otters.

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Sitka, Alaska

1.) Coastal Tours Sitka

Join this local as you explore the outside waters of Baranof Island on a small group excursion. This fun tour will take you into the nooks and crannies of the area, and get you a front row seat to the local wildlife, including the whale population.

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2.) A Whale’s Song Expeditions 

Boasting the opportunity to see whales on 99% of their tours, this premiere whale watching tour company in Sitka is the way to go. They are the local leaders in marine wildlife viewing and photography expeditions.

Join them for the chance to see humpbacks, minke, gray whales, sea otters, orcas, tufted puffins, and bald eagles on the Sitka Sound.

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3.) Gallant Adventures

Go on an adventure with Gallant Adventures in Sitka. Choose a 3 or 5 hour Wildlife Tour to get up close and personal with the marine life population in Sitka.

This intimate tour of no more than 6 people is the perfect way to experience a whale watching tour in the area.

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Homer, Alaska

1.) 49 North Alaskan Adventures

49 North Alaskan Adventures offers Kachemak Bay tours, where you can experience whale watching and wildlife viewing up close and personal on a stunning tour of Kachemak Bay.

They also offer custom guided tours, including glacier hikes into the state park.

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2.) Rainbow Tours

Rainbow Tours offers wildlife and fishing tours in Kachemak Bay. Check out their Seldovia Wildlife Tour, where you will see tons of wildlife before heading to the quaint community of Seldoiva.

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3.) Seaman’s Ecotour Adventures

Seaman’s Ecotour Adventures offers tours all year round out of Homer, Alaska. A small boat, they will help you build a custom tour to see everything you want while you cruise around Kachemak Bay in their 27 foot boat, the Pinbone, a stable boat that’s got plenty of windows and a toasty heater for those chilly days.

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4.) Mako’s Water Taxi

Mako’s Water Taxi can drop you off at your destination, or take you on a ride to see some of the coolest marine wildlife in Kachemak Bay. Their Wildlife Tour will have you cruising around serene coves and coastlines along the Park side of the Bay, where you will look for some great marine wildlife.

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5.) Central Charters & Tours 

Central Charters & Tours offers a 2 hour wildlife tour of the wonders of Kachemak Bay. You will explore the coastline in search of Orcas, Humpback whales, Bald eagles, and the ever friendly and fun-loving Sea Otter.

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Kodiak, Alaska

1.) Kodiak Scenic Tours

Kodiak Scenic Tours specializes in finding Humpback whales, Fin whales, Gray whales, and even Orca whales for visitors taking these tours. This two hour tour offers partial money back if you don’t see a whale.

But expect to be wowed by all of the incredible other wildlife you will come across.

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2.) Adventures in Kodiak

Adventures in Kodiak takes you through Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge looking for whales and other spectacular marine life. You will pass by glaciers and snow capped mountains, and possibly even see a bear or two.

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Valdez, Alaska

1.) Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruises

Join the boats on their Meares Glacier Excursion, where you will take an eight hour tour where you will typically spot orca whales, harbor seals, sea lions, and more.

This epic tour is a full day of adventure, and you will get to see everything Prince William Sound has to offer.

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2.) Lu-Lu Belle Tours

Captain Fred will take you out on an adventure in Prince William Sound on Lu-Lu Bell, the luxury motor yacht, Alaska’s most plush tour vessel.

See the glaciers up close, as well as Orca whales, Humpback whales, and more.

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Whittier, Alaska

1.) Phillips Cruises Alaska

Phillips Cruises is the big game in Whittier, offering a ton of different boat tours options. Check out 26 glaciers, cruise Prince William Sound for the impressive whale species selection, or do them all.

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2.) Lazy Otter Charters

A small boat with capacity up to six people, this charter will create a custom itinerary for you, including the chance to cruise into the heart of Prince William looking for humpback and killer whales.

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3.) Whittier Marine Charters

Whittier Marine Charters is a family operated charter group that’s been in operation since 1998! They will take you sportfishing, glacier seeing, or whale watching in the beautiful Prince William Sound on one of their three beautiful boats.

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Juneau, Alaska

1.) Juneau Tours

Head out on a 3.5 hour tour with the whole family. Explore the inside passage for these marine mammals,  you might just catch a few glimpses of other wildlife like eagles, bears, and seals.

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2.) Harv and Marv’s Whale Watching Tours in Juneau

Harv and Marv wants to make sure that you have a great time whale watching in Juneau, promising that you will be out in the water for 3 hours, an hour more than the other boating companies.

Be prepared to be impressed, because there are two epic tours available for whale watching enthusiasts with rave reviews.

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3.) Gastineau Guiding

Boasting small groups for a more intimate experience, Gastineau Guiding takes you on some of the best whale watching excursions in the area. With three different tours dedicated to whale watching, and a private charter option available to spend extra time looking for whales, this is a great option in Juneau.

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4.) Alaska Tales

Alaska Tales offers premiere whale watching tours in Juneau. Climb aboard their beautiful boat with comfortable leather seats after you book one of their two tours, or two private charters, to get up close and personal with Juneau’s whale population.

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Humpback Whale Breaching In Alaska
Sammy Wong

What is the Best Time To See Whales In Alaska?

Unlike other marine creatures, whales are active all day. You won’t need to take feeding times into account if you are booking a boat tour, as you are likely to see them at any time: morning, afternoon, or evening.

Book a tour that allows you to enjoy the sightseeing for the best time possible for your day. If you have the chance, try to enjoy the whole day on the water.

Some tour operators have a day-long outing available, complete with lunch aboard the ship.

Don’t forget the dramamine!

What Will I See Whale Watching?

Whales are very intelligent creatures with habits and certain behaviors.

Here are a couple things that you might see whales doing on your whale watching tour:

Spouting

When whales arrive at the surface and expel water and air from their blowholes. It is like nature’s fountain!

Fluke Dive

As they head back into the water, you may catch a whale flick his tail fin (also known as a fluke) one final time before diving.

Spyhopping

You might catch some curious whale eyes as they pop their head out of the water to have a look around. This is known as spyhopping.

It is a totally wild experience, as seeing their head and eyes is a rare experience.

Calls 

Most whale calls happen below the surface of the water, but can be heard from above.

Certain calls mean certain things, and each species has their own vernacular and regional dialect. If you are lucky, and can get close enough, you may have the chance to hear a whale’s song.

Breaching

We think this is the jackpot of whale watching!

Breaching is when a whale leaps more than halfway out of the water. Humpback whales are most known for breaching, as it is actually a form of communication between the different whales and different pods. Get those cameras ready!

A day on the sea is a day spent well, indeed. Whales are one of the largest, and most magnificent creatures that you can spot while adventuring in Alaska. These majestic, powerful creatures are a great reminder of the wildness found in The Last Frontier.

Alaska’s wildlife extends from the mountain tops to the sea below. We are well known for the incredible and unique wildlife you will see as you explore this beautiful state.

If you are hoping to see more animals in the land and sky, be sure to check out our guide for the 10 best wildlife viewing spots

Photo of author

Megan McDonald

After living over 14 years in Alaska, Megan McDonald can confidently state that there’s not much of the state on the road system that she hasn’t visited. From the Brooks Range to McCarthy, Homer, and everywhere in between, every nook and cranny of Alaska is her always her new favorite place. As President and co-founder of Alaska-based boutique media agency HuMu Media, she spends her work time writing, photographing, and traveling, and her off time writing, photographing, and traveling. They say do what you love, and she is lucky enough to do so! You can follow her travels on Instagram at @theitinerantginger

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