Whale Tales: What Whales Can Be Found In Alaska?

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Whale Watching In Alaska

Alaska is home to several whale species that either inhabit or migrate through its coastal waters. The most commonly sighted Alaskan whale species are the Humpback Whale, Orca (or Killer Whale), Fin Whale, and Gray Whale. However, sharp-eyed adventurers may also spot Blue, Sperm, and Minke Whales while on vacation in Alaska!

When Is Alaska’s Whale Watching Season?

If you want to see whales on your Alaska adventure, you may be wondering when is the best time to whale watch in Alaska. Alaska’s peak whale season runs from May through September, which is also when most of the boat tours and cruises operate.

Certain species of whales, like the orca, live and hunt in Alaska’s bays and inlets all year round. Other whales, like Gray whales, are migratory and arrive early in the spring. Humpback whales make their long journey from their winter breeding grounds near Japan, Hawaii, or Mexico to Alaska in June.

Top Five Alaskan Whales

What whales can be found in Alaska? Alaska’s nutrient-dense waters attract a variety of whales, but the top five whales you can see in Alaska are as follows:

  1. Humpback Whales – this Alaskan whale has a hump near its dorsal fin, hence its name. Adult Humpback Whales can grow to 60 feet long and weigh close to 40 tons. Female Humpback Whales are longer than male whales, which is unusual for a mammal. These magnificent creatures live and feed near the shores of oceans and seas, and will swim very close to land. To find food, this species undertakes an epic migration and can swim up to 16,000 miles a year.
  2. Beluga Whales – Beluga Whales are well suited to Alaska’s arctic waters, as the majority of their body weight is comprised of insulating blubber. These unique whales are white, with a large bulge on their foreheads, allowing them to produce high-pitched noises for echolocation. Belugas travel under the ice, where they hunt fish, octopus, sandworms, shrimp, and crab.
  3. Killer Whales – technically, a Killer Whale (or Orca) belongs to the dolphin family. However, they are often listed with whales because of their size. Orcas have long teeth that can grow up to four inches long and are carnivores. These predators feed on fish, squid, seals, and even sea birds. They can be seen year-round in Alaska, but the best time to see Orcas is between April and November.
  4. Gray Whales – if you’re wondering when whales are in Alaska, the short answer is that whale season begins in early spring! Gray Whales are the first to arrive in April, on their way to the Arctic to feed. Later, in October, they will pass through the state’s waters again, on their way to their winter breeding grounds in Mexico. Gray Whales hold the record for the farthest migration of any mammal, traveling tens of thousands of miles each year.
  5. Minke Whales – this petite whale is the second smallest member of the Baleen Whale family. Mink Whales measure up to 35 feet long and can weigh up to 10 tons. The greatest threat to this species of whale is the Orca. It can be found anywhere in the world, but in Alaska, the Minke Whale calls Kachemak Bay, Glacier Bay, and Prince William Sound home.

Why Do Whales Migrate To Alaska?

If you’re wondering what brings whales to Alaska, the answer is two-fold. Migration is the primary reason whales are so prevalent off the coast of Alaska during the summer. Most species of Alaskan whales are returning to their home after spending the winter months in the warmer waters off of Hawaii, Baja California, Mexico, and Central America. As water temperatures in those areas rise, the whales begin their journey home to Alaska’s cooler waters – which serve as their summer breeding grounds and supply them with a nutritious feast.

The Whales Of Anchorage, Alaska

If you want to go whale watching in Anchorage, Alaska, your best bet is to rent a car and drive along the Turnagain Arm to Cook Inlet. There, you will be able to spot Beluga whales from mid-July through August. You can also hike or bike along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The trail has multiple viewpoints that overlook Cook Inlet and offer whale watchers an excellent vantage point.

Another good place to see whales near Anchorage is just 15 miles south of the city down the Seward Highway. This simple highway pull-off is called Beluga Point and features 180-degree views of the Turnagain Arm. Here, you can spot – you guessed it – Beluga whales through your binoculars.

Whale Tours From Whittier And Seward

While the whale watching in Anchorage, Alaska is good, you can also opt to drive from Anchorage to Whittier or Seward to see even more whales. Both towns are accessible by car, so renting one and traveling down the Seward Highway opens up even more whale-watching opportunities for those who want to see Alaska’s different whale species.

  • Whale-watching in Whittier – cruise through Prince William Sound’s massive tidewater glaciers to see Humpback whales, Orcas, or Minke whales. Driving to Whittier takes 90 minutes, or you can book a passage on the Alaska Railroad's Glacier Discovery Train to make your whale-watching adventure a truly special treat.
  • Whale-watching in Seward – if you like road trips, the two-hour, scenic drive from Anchorage to Seward will be right up your alley. Once you arrive, you can take a charter boat tour through Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park to see Humpback whales, Orcas, Minke whales, and fin Whales. If you are in Alaska during the early spring, you may even see the spring Gray whale migration!

The best time to whale watch in Alaska is from May to October when the annual migration brings whales to Alaska. This is also the height of tourist season in Alaska, so start planning your whale-watching adventure today! You don’t want to miss your chance to see these magnificent mammals.

Download all three Alaska tour brochures for tour dates and pricing.