Changing the way we view whales and dolphins facebook twitter

Sign in / Register


By Judith Scott

Search the world for trips to see Humpback Whales here

All photographs by Judith Scott

Why watch Humpbacks?

Humpback Whale in New England, USA

Whale watching trips in search of Humpback Whales are amongst the most popular on the planet. So why are Humpback Whales - one of several very large whale species watched by whale watchers across the world - so special?

Humpback Whales are probably the favourite species for whale watchers due to a number of reasons including their size, myriad of regularly seen surface behaviours and propensity to get rather inquisitive, often challenging the whale watcher to question just who is really watching whom!

Being lucky enough to experience this ‘close to boat’ behaviour really can be a life changing experience. With eyes as big as a grapefruit watching you, it really makes you wish you could interpret what they are thinking, and it certainly makes you pretty certain there is intelligent life out there in the oceans of our planet. Humpback Whales are also one of the most studied species of whale, meaning that your whale watch to see them can be an even more of a rewarding experience if you spot a recognised individual that may have been known to researchers for decades. 

Not only do Humpback Whales jump around a lot and gaze at people, Humpbacks are renowned for their long migrations often swim close to shore. They are also famous for their spectacular open-mouth surface feeding techniques and for their songs, sung in their breeding grounds. They really are the world’s perfect whale for whale watching!


Where do Humpback Whales live?

Whale watching trips for Humpback Whales are available in the Pacific, Atlantic, Southern, and Indian Oceans. They can be watched on their breeding grounds, which are in the tropics, or their feeding grounds, in colder temperate or polar seas as well as on their migration routes in many areas. Humpbacks spend most of the Spring, Summer and Autumn months in their feeding grounds. In the winter they return to their breeding grounds. So if you fancy a globetrotting whale watch in the month of July, you could watch Humpbacks feeding  in cool waters in the Northern Hemisphere while in the Southern Hemisphere you could be watching Humpbacks breeding and nursing their young.

Humpback Whale tail fluke by Dylan Walker


The closest trip to you is...

If you want to see Humpback Whales in the wild there is an incredible choice of destinations. This article highlights some of the most popular.

The most accessible areas to see Humpback Whales feeding are mostly in North America. In the North Atlantic you can go whale watching in the USA off the coasts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. These whale watches are very accessible from flights in and out of Boston. There are great whale watches off Provincetown to the south and Gloucester to the north, as well as others further north out of Massachusetts. There are many areas on the East coast of Canada to go and see feeding humpbacks also, such as Mingan Island, Newfoundland, Tadoussac, Brier Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

If you have seen photos of large aggregations of Humpbacks open-mouth feeding together, these were probably taken in Alaska. Humpback Whales can be found in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, Prince William Sound, and Glacier Bay and throughout the Inside Passage of South East Alaska in the summer.

For the Northern Hemisphere breeding grounds your choices include Hawaii and the Dominican Republic. Humpbacks also breed in smaller numbers off Japan, Mexico and West Africa. The main two destinations (Hawaii and Dominican Republic) offer very different experiences as in the Dominican Republic you are able to swim with the whales. There are differing opinions as to whether it is right to allow people in the water with wild whales, and this is an expensive trip as it is on a live-aboard boat for a week. The swim trips in the Dominican Republic at least seem to be heavily licensed with only three companies allowed to undertake these trips. Whale watching with Humpbacks in Hawaii is regular boat based watching, however this area is known for its crystal clear blue water, giving great visibility of young calves, if you are lucky enough to see the whales at close quarters.


Humpback Whales alongside whale watching boats in the USA

Watching Humpbacks Down Under

In the Southern Hemisphere it’s rather expensive to reach the main feeding grounds of the Humpbacks off Antarctica, however there are small populations that apparently feed off New Zealand and parts of Australia. However, the main whale watching of Humpbacks in this part of the world takes place on their breeding grounds which are more accessible. Humpbacks breed off the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the northwest coast of Australia and Tonga. They also migrate along the east and west coasts of Africa and South America to breeding grounds off Peru, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and Madagascar.

Hervey Bay in Australia is well known as great place to go whale watching with Humpbacks on their breeding grounds. In the breeding areas the highlights of course include seeing young calves but also getting to see ‘rowdy’ behavior, which usually involves a group of males fighting for the right to mate with a female. This can create some exciting surface activity with lots of splashing and interesting behavior. Tonga, like the Dominican Republic, is a country that allows people in the water with the whales. Reports suggest that this activity is not as well regulated here as it is in the Dominican Republic.

Every encounter with a Humpback Whale is special

Wherever you choose to go, when watching Humpbacks you have a good chance of being rewarded with some sort of wonderful surface behavior, surface feeding or a close encounter. However, just seeing a Humpback Whale in the wild, near of far, is an amazing experience that you will never forget!


Whale watchers enjoy a Humpback Whale surfacing off the Mexico coast

Search the world for trips to see Humpback Whales here

Previous article: Wildly exciting of wet fish? You choose the Whalefest logo!



2013 Responsible Whale Watch Partnership:Click here to read more about the partnership