Friendliest whales in the world? Tourists meet a grey whale in the San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja California © Mark Carwardine / Barcroft Media / Getty


1. Baja California, Mexico

Strictly speaking, Baja California should have a category all of its own.

This isn’t whale watching – it’s more like whale scratching and whale chatting.

In the Pacific waters off Mexico’s west coast, under a fierce Latin American sky, you don’t get a single, brief sighting of a lumbering grey whale – no, you approach within a metre and tickle it under the chin.

If grey whales could write, they’d probably have this down as the best place to see people (better than Japan or Norway, anyway), because they appear to seek out the company of tourist boats.

A blue whale in the Sea of Cortez, Baja California © Mark Carwardine / Getty

And it’s not just grey whales – encounters with humpbacks and blues, super-pods of common dolphins and even rare and rarely seen beaked whales are all possible, too. Just don’t forget your guide to how to speak whale.

2. Vancouver Island, Canada

Is there a sexier cetacean than the killer whale? Its dramatic piebald markings, the towering dorsal fin and immense, frightening intelligence mark it out as a species apart, the apex predator of all apex predators, besting even great white sharks and polar bears.

Off the coast of Vancouver Island, on Canada’s west coast, there are matriarchal pods of orcas of up to 100 animals, and they’re easy to see in day trips out of Victoria.

In Johnstone Strait, on the north-east side of Vancouver, more than 200 orcas gather to feed on the abundant salmon runs – take
to a kayak and get even closer.

3. The Azores, Mid-Atlantic

A sperm whale is like an iceberg. Lying on the surface of the water – or ‘logging’, in whale-watching jargon – it is almost invisible, given away only by its unique, left-leaning spout.

At last it dives, and all we see is its fluke pointing to the sky, with the rest of the huge bulk hidden beneath the waves.

It’s an exhilarating moment as the tail slips noiselessly beneath the waves, and in the Azores you will see this again and again and again.

The waters off these volcanic islands are rich hunting grounds, while other great whales such as fin and sei, and bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins are also common.

4. Tonga, South Pacific

It was, perhaps, the haunting song of the humpback that did more than anything else to establish whales as an animal apart (from a human perspective, anyway), and in the breeding grounds of Vava‘u in Tonga you can hear it for yourself.

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Not only that, you can share the ocean space with the humpbacks and see mothers suckling calves or testosterone-charged juvenile males, as you dive or snorkel in the warm, tropical water.


Jo PriceDeputy editor, BBC Wildlife Magazine