Here are some of the best places to grab your camera, point, click and “ooh”:
Cunningham Inlet, Nunavut, Canada: For beluga whales
Known for their endearing playfulness, Belugas often spit water at each other … or nearby humans.
courtesy arctic watch/cnn
Approximately 2,000 beluga whales visit Cunningham Inlet for about four weeks each year. Whales can be observed thrashing about, playing and making lots of noise just a couple of meters from the shore. If boats make you seasick, this is the whale watching spot for you.
Box 1252, Yellowknife, NWT, X1A 2N9, Canada; +1 (819) 923-0932
The Azores: For blue whales
Blue Whales are the largest creatures ever to have lived on the planet … dinosaurs included.
Courtesty Whale Watch Azores/CNN
Every schoolchild knows that blue whales are the biggest animals in the world — they can reach 30 meters in length and weigh up to 200 tons. From March to May, the Azores are one of the best places to catch a glimpse of these giants, whose tongues can weigh as much as an elephant.
Whale Watch Azores tours include six days’ whale watching, accommodation and most meals. Half-day tours are available during the summer, although the chances of seeing a blue whale then are much diminished.
Rua do Paiol 12, Horta, Faial, Azores, Portugal; +351 292 293 891
Baja California, Mexico: For gray whales
Cetaceans are naturally inquisitive and “spyhopping,” as it is known, allows them to take a closer look.
OMAR TORRES/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Ecoturismo Kuyimá, SPR de RL, Morelos #23, esq. Miguel Hidalgo, Zona Centro, San Ignacio, BCS 23930, Mexico; + 52 615 154 00 70
Hervey Bay, Australia: For humpback whales
There are few sights more majestic than a humpback breaching.
EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Humpbacks feed only in the summer, then migrate to new climates for the winter months where they mate and give birth while living off their fat reserves. As Hervey Bay is a top destination for summer feeding, whale sightings are guaranteed from mid-July to the end of October.
P.O. Box 7334, Urangan, Hervey Bay 4655, Queensland, Australia; + 61 7 4128 9611
Antarctic Peninsula: For minke whales
Minke are friendly and can come up to boats of their own accord.
courtesy quark expeditions/cnn
The sleek black/gray minke whales are most common in the Antarctic Peninsula and can be seen from November to March.
Quark Expeditions offer tours from early November until early March.
3131 Elliott Avenue, Suite 300, Seattle, WA 98121, USA; +1 802 490 1731
Nunavut, Canada: For narwhals
The male narwhal’s ivory tusk grows in a spiral directly through the whale’s upper lip.
courtesy todd mintz/arctic kingdom/cnn
The male narwhal’s ivory tusk grows in a spiral directly through the whale’s upper lip. We can only imagine the freaking out that must have ensued when sailors first viewed them centuries ago. June, with round-the-clock daylight, is the best month to observe narwhals in Nunavut.
PO Box 6117, Iqaluit NU X0A 1H0, Canada; +1 888 737 6818
San Juan Islands, Washington state, U.S: For orcas
Orcas use group hunting techniques to eat sea lions, walruses and even other whales.
Sarah McCullagh/San Juan Safaris/CNN
The waters surrounding San Juan Island are the No. 1 place in North America for seeing wild orca.
Orcas — known as killer whales — are technically dolphins. They are drawn to the western coast of the United States thanks to a large supply of Chinook salmon and return to the San Juan Islands to feed around the middle of April, remaining until the end of September.
San Juan Safaris runs daily tours from February through November.
10 Front St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250, United States; +1 360 378 1323
Strait of Gibraltar, Spain: For pilot whales
Pilot whales can dive to 1,000 meters at speeds reaching nine meters-per-second.
Pilot whales are some of the most social whales around — they will sometimes strand themselves on beaches en masse rather than abandon fellow members of the pod. An abundant supply of food means that the Strait of Gibraltar is a year-round home for them.
Katharina Heyer, president of FIRMM, an organization dedicated to research and protection of dolphins and whales, recommends that whale watchers allow several days in their itinerary to see the pilot whales, as strong winds can sometimes prevent boats from going out.
Pedro Cortés 4, E-11380 Tarifa, Spain; +34 956 62 70 08
Hermanus, South Africa: For southern right whales
Up close and personal.
Courtesy Southern Right Charters/CNN
Hermanus is one of the best whale watching spots in the world — there are plenty of whales that can be seen playing mere meters from the shore.
Temperate waters and lots of sheltered bays make it an ideal mating and birthing site for the southern right whales.
The right whales perform a playful “sailing” exercise with their fluke (tail fins) — raising them to catch the wind. Southern Right Charters Whale Watching offers daily departures in season lasting between 1.5 and three hours.
The Whale Shack, New Harbour, Hermanus, South Africa; +27 82 353 0550
Kaikoura, New Zealand: For sperm whales
The sperm whale has the largest brain of any animal in the world.
Courtesy Whale Watch Kaikoura/CNN
“The rich abundance of fish ensures they make the waters of Kaikoura their home.” Whale Watch Kaikoura offers tours all year round.
The Whaleway Station, Whaleway Road, Kaikoura, New Zealand; +64 3 319 6767
Cancun, Mexico: For whale sharks:
The plankton-feeding whale shark is one of the ocean’s gentle giants.
john vater/ceviche tours/CNN
The giant jaws of the whale shark (up to 1.5 meters wide) might look like they could swallow a human whole, but these creatures feed mostly on plankton and are undisturbed by nearby swimmers.
Whale sharks aren’t strictly whales, but they’re some of the most astonishing marine creatures in existence — and swimming with them is a spectacular experience.
As many as 420 whale sharks have been sighted here in a single day. The best time to catch them is from the middle of May to the middle of September.
Ceviche Tours offers open boat tours (up to 10 people per boat) and private tours.
Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, México; whatsapp +011 52 998 241 3345
Nell McShane Wulfhart lives in Uruguay and writes about travel.
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2012. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.