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Want The Absolute Best Time To Cruise Alaska To See Whales?

Surrounded by various bodies of water teeming with diverse marine life, especially whale pods, Alaska is a favorite destination for keen whale watchers! 

Let’s explore some of the reasons why Alaska has developed a world-class reputation for whale-watching cruises. Keep reading to figure out for your family the best time to cruise Alaska to see whales.

Best Time To Cruise Alaska To See Whales | photo of fishing boat near two diving whales

Overview Of Whale Watching In Alaska 

Famous for its pristine icy waters and sweeping mountain vistas, the untamed wilderness and surrounding ocean of Alaska have made the northernmost state in America a world-class tourist destination for adventure cruisers looking to catch a glimpse of some of the world’s most magnificent marine life. 

However, while there are a few locations to see whales on land, the best method of whale watching in Alaska is to get out on the water via a guided whale-watching cruise. There’s a reason whale-watching typically tops the favorites list of Alaska cruise excursions.

This Is What To Expect On A Whale Watching Cruise In Alaska 

Alaska is cold all year round, with particularly cold temperatures during the winter months; this cold weather coupled with the open sea air means that cruisers must wear multiple waterproof layers when exploring the frigid Alaskan waters. 

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However, despite the cold weather, you will be exposed to hours of sunshine and the sea air. Therefore it is essential that you pack both moisturizer and sunscreen. 

The final and essential item is a pair of binoculars. While cruise ships may get very close to whale pods, some whale pods may be too far to reach or are weary of vessels; therefore, a good pair of binoculars will help you to see these creatures up close from any distance!  (Find out more in our post about what to pack for an Alaska cruise.)

The time and place you choose to cruise the Alaskan waters will determine the species of whales you will see. However, Alaska’s diverse climates mean that keen whale watchers are bound to see one or more of the following species of whales: 

  • Orca whales, 
  • Humpback whales, 
  • Blue whales, 
  • Beluga whales. 

So When Is The Best Time To Cruise Alaska To See Whales For Sure?

The best time to go whale watching in Alaska is during the winter and summer months of May to September. The reason being is that whales migrate from the warmer water of Hawaii, Baja California, Mexico, and Central America to the colder waters of the Alaskan feeding grounds.

1. Whale Watching In May  

As the start of the whale watching season, May tends to be a dry month in Alaska, meaning the weather is pleasant and not too cold. Furthermore, fewer crowds mean a better chance to get close to whales and secure cruises at more favorable rates.

2. Whale Watching In June   

Similar to May, June is a dry and warm month to visit Alaska. Early June is also the best time to see orcas, although mid to late June also has sporadic sightings.

3. Whale Watching In July   

July has some of the warmest days in the year, making it a prime time to go whale watching, both for comfort and to see whales. However, July is also peak tourist season, meaning that you must expect large crowds and premium cruise prices!

4. Whale Watching In August   

Similar to July, August is one of the warmest months in Alaska and a very busy month as far as tourists are concerned. 

Fortunately, this is the last month you can expect to see certain whale species like Blue Whales before they begin their migration to Mexico, Central America, and the Pacific Ocean.

5. Whale Watching In September  

While September starts to produce colder days in Alaska, it is also the final month of whale watching season, meaning it is your last chance to see certain whale species like Humpback Whales before they migrate to Mexico, Hawaii, and the Pacific. 

Furthermore, it is one of the quieter whale-watching months in Alaska, meaning you should see subdued crowds and better prices compared to July and August.

Best Time To See Whales In Alaska | photo of humpback whale breaching water
Orca (aka “Killer”) Whales in Alaska

Where Are The Best Places To See Whales In Alaska?

While there are various places to go whale watching in Alaska, the following six destinations are prime locations to explore via a whale-watching cruise:  

  1. Resurrection Bay, 
  2. Prince William Sound, 
  3. Turnagain Arm, 
  4. Homer, 
  5. Kodiak, 
  6. Inside Passage. 

1. Best Time & Place To Watch Orca (Killer) Whales

While not technically whales, orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family and are colloquially known as “killer whales,” despite their friendly demeanor toward humans.

Orcas are apex predators who live in whale pods of dozens of other whales. These orca pods travel to Alaska between May and September, hunting for food using cooperative hunting techniques, similar to a pack of wolves or a pride of lions. Therefore, you may hear their vocalizations if you have the means/equipment to do so.  

Orca pods are typically found at the Inside Passage, along the South East coast of Alaska, where they hunt and raise their young. Fortunately, the Inside Passage is easy to access, given its proximity to Alaska’s capital city, Juneau.  

2. Best Time & Place To Watch Humpback Whales

Humpback Whales can be found across various locations in Alaska, including but not limited to the Inside Passage, Prince William Sound, Homer, Resurrection Bay, and Kodiak. 

Despite Humpback Whales frequenting numerous Alaskan locations, they are migratory whales, meaning you will only be able to see Humpback Whales between May and September, whereafter they will return to tropical waters like Hawaii to raise their young. 

Fortunately, Humpback Whales are confident animals that are known for large displays like breaching, splashing, and bobbing.

3. Best Time & Place To Watch Blue Whales

Despite being the largest mammals on earth, measuring 100 feet in length and 200 tons in weight, Blue Whales can be surprisingly elusive. 

Although Blue Whales have been spotted in Homer, most Blue Whale sightings occur in the open waters of the northern and eastern portions of the Gulf of Alaska. 

Furthermore, Blue Whales inhabit Alaska for a short period between July and August before wintering in Mexico, Central America, and the Pacific Ocean.

4. Best Time & Place To Watch Beluga Whales

Finally, Beluga Whales are a critically endangered species, making their sighting particularly memorable and important. Beluga Whale sightings tend to occur before and after high tides in Turnagain Arm along the Seward Highway. 

Because of their association with high tides, the best time of year to look for Beluga Whales in Alaska is mid-July and September.

Closing Thoughts

If you are looking for an amazing whale-watching experience, Alaska is the perfect destination. With its many waterways and diverse marine life, you are almost guaranteed to see whales on your cruise. Make sure to start planning your trip soon, as the best time of year to see these majestic creatures is during the summer months.

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