Official State of Alaska Vacation and Travel Information
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Spring is whale migration time! Depending on the month and where you are, you may see Dall’s porpoise leaping alongside your boat or a group of giant humpbacks bubble feeding in Alaska’s nutrient-rich waters. Whether you are cruising the Inside Passage, taking a day trip in Prince William Sound or Kenai Fjords National Park, or driving along the Seward Highway between Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula, keep your eyes open—you won’t want to miss these ocean-going beauties!
After wintering in Hawaii and Mexico, Humpback whales start their nearly 3,000-mile northward trip in February or March to reach summer feeding grounds in Alaska. Humpbacks can be seen in Alaska’s Inside Passage starting in April and May. After an overnight stay in Juneau, take a half- or all-day cruise in Auke Bay. Or, if you have an extra day, travel to Glacier Bay National Park, a world heritage site. Stay overnight in Gustavus, then take day cruise or kayak along the coastline of this 3.3 million-acre national park.
Southcentral Alaska has lots of options for whale watching excursions, too. After an overnight in Anchorage, take the Alaska Railroad to Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park, or to Whittier and Prince William Sound. As you travel south along Turnagain Arm toward your destination, keep an eye out for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale. These white whales can be hard to spot in the silty grey waters of the Arm, but pods of beluga chase salmon and eulachon (a small fish also called hooligan or candlefish due to its high oil content) to the mouths of the many rivers feeding into the Arm. Consider staying overnight in Seward and visit the Alaska Sea Life Center or Exit Glacier before returning to Anchorage by train the following afternoon.
In both the Inside Passage and Southcentral waters, keep an eye out for orca (also known as the killer whale) and rarer species such as fin or minke whales. If you’re lucky, spot the spout of a grey whale as it passes through Alaska’s coastal waters on its way to the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas off western and northern Alaska. Whales start their southward migration in October and November, and the community of Sitka hosts an annual Whalefest to bid them a safe journey.
The majority of boat excursions have indoor and sheltered viewing areas. Whale watching boats go out rain or shine, however, so be prepared for the weather and bring a rain jacket. It’ll be windy on deck, so hang on to your ball caps!
In the know: Humpback whales are often seen in groups of 2-12 individuals. Watch for acrobatic behavior such as spy hopping, lobtailing, or even breaching completely out of the water. Keep an eye out for the tail (or “fluke”)—if you see the full tail, it’s likely the whale is going for a deep dive.
Keep Reading for a just a few of the ways to see Alaska’s whales.
Sample the best sights and experiences along Alaska's Inside Passage with this quick five-day itinerary, which includes everything from bear-viewing to whale-watching, spectacular glaciers, and a chance to learn about the culture and history of Southeast Alaska. Read More
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