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Books and links
Carwardine, M. 1995. Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. Dorling Kindersley, London. A nice field guide with information on every species of cetacean, with good illustrations and additional information on how to identify animals at sea.
Carwardine, M., Hoyt, E., Fordyce, R.E., and Gill, P. 2002. Whales and Dolphins. Harper Collins, London. Not such a useful field guide, but it does have excellent information on where to go (and when) to see many cetaceans species.
National Audubon Society. 2002. Guide to Marine Mammals of the World. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. Not, to my mind, quite as useful as Mark Carwardine's field guide for identifying animals at sea, but it complements his book well and includes information on seals and sea lions as well as all the world's cetaceans.
Shirihai, H. and Jarrett, B. 2006. Whales, Dolphins and Other Marine Mammals of the World. Great illustrations, fabulous photos and a lot of useful information on every species.
The Obis Seamap has GIS information about sightings of all species (choose browse species, then mammalia).
The Planet Whale site has a great guide to whale watching operators around the world (and allows you to search species by species).
Other regionally specific information is listed with each of the regional whale watching sections below (see links to the right).
Cape Verde: I know nothing more than what is in these two papers sent to me by Cornelis J. Hazevoet. It sounds an interesting area. Recent data on Cape Verde Cetaceans & First records of Fraser's Dolphin off of Cape Verde.
Mozambique: There is good Humpback Whale watching in the south.
Namibia: Heaviside's Dolphins are pretty easy to see off Walvis Bay and local tour operators run trips to see them,
South Africa: Heaviside's Dolphins are found along the west coast, and are probably easiest to see around Lambert's Bay, so far as I can tell. But they are regularly spotted around the West Coast National Park too (though not every day). Bryde’s Whales are resident in Plettenburg Bay, on the 'Garden Route', and seen on 70% of trips (but neither of the trips I took), with Bottlenose and Humpbacked Dolphins often seen too. Southern Right Whales are easy to find in the area around Cape town during the southern Winter. I had a fabulous time watching half a dozen less than 100m off the beach at De Hoop Nature Reserve, and saw others off Hermanus too.
Australasian: Whale Watching in Australia and New Zealand
This blog is a good place to find or request information for Australian cetacea.
Humpback Whales migrate up and down the east and west coast each year. They head up to their calving grounds during May and June and return, with calves and usually closer in to shore, during September and October. Any headland on the southern halves of the east or west coast is worth taking a look from. There are many whale watching operations around. Eden (at the very bottom of New South Wales) is a particularly good spot to see them.
Sperm Whales are quite often seen on the pelagic bird watching trips that go out of Wollongong on the second saturday of every month and sometimes on the Sydney trips too (see Tony Palliser's Home Page for info on these trips). A large group (50 or so) of Sperm Whales congregated off Eden in April 2005 and hung around for a month or more.
Blue Whales move into the waters off western Victoria around Easter each year to feed. They tend not to come in too close to shore but they can be picked up on a good day from the Portland lighthouse for example. I also saw a pod at Easter time a bit closer in, off the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road.
Southern Right Whales are quite present close in to the south coast during the Austral-winter. Warnambool is one of the easier places to see them, though the best place is the head of the Great Australian Bight where large numbers can be seen in their calving grounds below the cliffs.
Minke Whales (both the Dwarf and Antarctic flavours) could show up anywhere thought they are not reported all that often in the south (I saw one in Sydney Harbour one July and another on the Great Barrier Reef). Dwarf Minkes are common out on the Great Barrier Reef in the winter.
Bryde's Whales are quite scarce in the south. They are more often seen off the mid west coast and the Great Barrier Reef (in summer) though they could turn up in any bit of the ocean. They are reported once or twice most years from Twofold Bay, Eden for example.
Other Whales: Fin and Sei Whales both appear now and again (especially around western Victoria when the Bonney Upwelling is happening - this is the same current system that brings the Blue Whales in at around Easter each year). But neither Fin nor Sei whales are seen all that often. Plenty of the Beaked Whale species have been recorded in Australia but while animals are occasionally seen from bird watching trips they are rarely identified. Species like Grey's and Strap-toothed Beaked Whales beach every now and again, as do Pygmy Sperm Whales.
Common Dolphins are very common along the south-east coast and seen on just about every Sydney and Wollongong pelagic trip for example, and are ever-present in Two Fold Bay, Eden.
Inshore Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) are common along the east coast, and much of Victoria (, and also famously at Monkey Mia, Shark Bay in Western Australia where wild dolphins come to the beach each day to be fed. The larger Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are a bit harder to see, but they see them pretty often off of Eden, or on the Wollongong and Sydney pelagics. A newly split (2011) third species - the Burrunan Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops australis) - is only found in a very few localities at the moment. One is Port Phillip Bay: presumably this is the species tour operators run trips to swim with (see Polperro Dolphin Swims for instance). Its also present in the Gippsland Lakes further east.
Risso's Dolphins are also seen quite regularly off Eden, Wollongong and Sydney. I saw a big pod of Pantropical Spotted Dolphins once on a winter trip out of Sydney. Gladstone Harbour is a good spot to see Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphins, while Australian Snubfin (formerly Irrawaddy) Dolphins are around off of Darwin and seen pretty much every day in Roebuck Bay, near Broome (ask at the Bird Observatory there for directions). Spinner Dolphins are quite common out on the Great Barrier Reef and in other tropical waters, while Rough-toothed and Fraser's Dolphins appear to hang around at Ashmore Reef (a long way offshore west of Broome).
Several Blackfish species inhabit Australian waters though none is that easy to see. It took me six years to see my first Pilot Whales in Australia (short-finned Pilot Whales on the edge of the shelf off Eden in May 2005). And it took me nearly seven years to see my first Killer Whales. They are reputedly quite common off Tasmania and, while they might turn up anywhere, are probably seen most often in the Eden-Merrimbula area when the Humpbacks are migrating south (I spent 22 hours at sea one weekend looking for them from a charter boat in 2003 to no avail only to get back to work to hear my boss had seen them from the Merrimbula golf course - their splashing had "nearly put him off his game" ....). False Killer Whales turn up fairly regularly along the east coast, as do Pygmy Killers (mainly in spring/summer) and Melon-headed Whales have been reported a few times from pelagic bird watching trips off Wollongong and the Gold Coast.
New Zealand: Akaroa is a good spot to find the endemic Hector’s Dolphin. Not easy to find from land, I spent several hours at a couple of good vantage points over the bay in calm conditions without any luck. But the dolphin swimming boat-trip I took got onto them pretty easily.
Kaikoura is scenically stunning, with its snow capped mountains rising up from the shore. Dusky Dolphins are easily seen on the dolphin swimming trips, and New Zealand Fur Seals haul out near town. Sperm Whales are seen on 90% of whale watching trips. Many other species are seen occasionally – I saw a Humpback Whale in July 2004. Southern Right Whale Dolphins are occasionally reported in mid winter.
Timor-Leste: In late 2008 joint research between the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Timorese government discovered the deep water just off the Timor-Leste coast was a "global hotspot" for cetaceans. In one day alone, more than 1000 individuals from 8 species were spotted. See this article from the NT news. Species seen included Short-finned Pilot Whales, Melon-headed Whales, Spotted, Spinner, Striped, Risso's, Fraser's, Bottle-nosed and Rough-toothed Dolphins plus Blue and Beaked Whales. Humpbacks also migrate through the area. I visited for the first time in October 2010 and saw Melon-headed Whales, Short-finned Pilot Whales and Fraser's Dolphins in abundance during a morning at sea out of Dili. See the Timor-Leste page.
Nearctic: Whale Watching in Canada and the USA
The Sea of Cortez in Baja Mexico is one of the most famous whale watching destinations in the world with a wide range of cetaceans present.
British Columbia: Vancouver Island is good for Grey Whales pretty much year round. The entire population travels past the island during the spring migration north, which runs from February through May. A small population remains off the west coast and spends the summer feed close to shore, and whale watching boats operate out of Tofino to see them. And the animals stream south again in the late Autumn and Winter. The Tofino whale watching trips often also see Humpbacks, Orcas, Harbor and Dall's Porpoise and Pacific White-sided Dolphins . Killer Whales seem fairly common all around the island, with trips leaving daily from Sidney (Victoria) to see them for example.
Massachusetts: Stellwagen Bank, reached from many tour operators all along the Massachusetts coast, has Humpback, Fin, and Minke Whales daily spring to fall, Northern Right Whales fairly common until mid May, Sei Whales very uncommonly (seasonal? - I saw 3 here in May 2013), and White-sided Dolphins on occasion. And Hydrographer Canyon, reached via all-day fishing or birdwatching trip from Cape Cod, is at the edge of the Continental Shelf and has Risso's Dolphins, Sperm Whales, Short-finned Pilot Whales, Common Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, and rarely beaked whales. (Thanks Brian Cassie for all this information). See the Massachusetts page.
North Carolina: Pelagic birding trips turn up quite a few cetaceans apparently, and according to Morgan Churchill these include Humpback Whales (seasonal), Risso's Dolphin (uncommon), Sperm Whales (uncommon but regular), Offshore Bottlenose and Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, as well as Short-finned Pilot Whale (all three common). Other species regularly seen are Cuvier's Beaked Whale and less regularly Gervais Beaked Whale. Trips have also encountered False Killer Whale, Clymene Dolphin, Fin Whale. One operator of pelgic trips is Patteson Pelagics.
Newfoundland: There are many whale watching operations around the coast, though cetacean watching is only reliable in the shortish Newfoundland summer from June through early September. Whale watching is mainly focused on Humpback, Minke and Fin WHales in the summer, along with White-sided and White-beaked Dolphins. Pilot Whales are also common as are Harbour Porpoises.
The North West Territories: Inuvik, at the top of the Dempster Highway in the Canadian north west, is the end of the road and a base for short scenic flights to some of the islands in the Beaufort Sea. Bowheads and Belugas are often seen from the air in the summer.
Nova Scotia: There are Humpback, Minke and Fin Whales here through the summer, with Right Whales later in the season - until late October at least, but they are further out. Its only 20 miles from Tiverton to the Right Whale grounds off Grand Manan, so if the operators in Grand Manan have closed for the season you might find a boat still operating out of Digby Neck. White-beaked and White-sided Dolphins are common in the summer/fall too, as are Harbour Porpoises.
Nunavut: Baffin Island has Narwhals, Bowhead Whales and Belugas through the summer months, often right in close to the edge of the ice floe, or even in cracks in the ice. Pond Inlet and Igloolik are two places where you can arrange trips to see these animals from land or sea, though you'd be well advised to make arrangements before you get there - trips often involve overnight stays and long journeys over the sea ice and trying to do things at short notice can be difficult.
Quebec: Belugas live year round in the St Lawrence River, and there is a large whale watching industry based around Tadoussac. In the summer the Belugas are joined by large numbers of Minke, Fin and Humpback Whales, with occasional Blue Whales and Orcas. White-sided Dolphins and Harbor Porpoises are around too. I saw Belugas easily from the shore near the ferry port in Riviere Du Loup, on the south bank of the St Lawrence, opposite Tadoussac.
Amazon: The pink river dolphins - Botos - of the Amazon basin are quite easy to see in Brazil and other places, with the dry season is best to look for them. Steve Anyon-Smith saw a stack in Bolivia, in the Trinidad area for example. Tucuxis are also quite common in the Amazon but are easiest to see off the Brazilian coast. I saw plenty of both species on the journey to the Palmari Lodge in the western Amazon on the Colombia/Brazil border.
Chile: I found Commerson's Dolphins between the Chilean mainland and Tierra Del Fuego in Patagonia. With Peale's Dolphins and Chilean Dolphins off of Chiloe Island. The latter two species are also common off of Patagonia. See my Chile report.
Costa Rica: I didn't go looking, but the Osa Peninsula is probably the best whale watching destination in Costa Rica. More interesting species seen seasonally/year round include Spinner, Pantropical Spotted and Rough-toothed Dolphins, along with False Killer, Bryde's and Sei Whales.
Patagonia: Steve Anyon-Smith saw both Peale's and Commerson's Dolphins off Cape Virgin in Patagonia (the straits of Magellan). And other birders report those two species, which are endemic to South America, quite often without making a special effort to see them. Puerto Deseado in southern Argentina is supposed to be a good place to find operators to take you out looking for these species.
Hong Kong: Hong Kong Dolphin Watch run trips to see the pink race of Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphin in the harbour and I saw several in January 1999. There are also Finless Porpoises in these waters, though they hang out in a different area to that visited by the dolphin trips. They are allegedly seen sometimes from the south of Hong Kong island but it takes several hours to walk to the best vantage point I was told of (Kau Ling Ching along the Lantau Trail).
Maldives: I've never been but there are some awesome sounding week long trips out of the Maldives each year run by the Whale & Dolphin Company. They seem some great species (19 in all) including Bryde's Whale, Dwarf Sperm Whale, Fraser's Dolphin, Rough-toothed Dolphin, Melon Headed Whale, Pygmy Killer Whale, Cuvier's, Longman's and Dense-beaked Whale. I have to go!
The Philippines: Somewhere else I haven't been to, but it sounds like there is excellent cetacean watching around Pamilacan. There are supposed to be good chances of Spinner, Fraser’s, Bottlenose, Risso’s, and Pantropical Spotted dolphins year round together with Melon-headed and Short-finned Pilot whales. Bryde's and Sperm Whales are around March through June and Dwarf Sperm Whales are not uncommon.
Sri Lanka: has good numbers of Blue Whales it seems and a lot of other stuff including Bryde's and Dwarf Sperm Whales. Trips are organised off here by the Whale & Dolphin Company.
Palearctic: Whale Watching in Europe
The Bay of Biscay: Since the late 1990s the Bay of Biscay has emerged as one of the world’s best Cetacean viewing areas. The ferries than run from Portsmouth in the UK to Bilbao in Spain spend the last third of their journey running along deep canyons that are teeming with sea monsters in the summer. I’ve only taken the trip once but, in the first 12 hours out of Spain back to the UK in August 1998 I saw False Killer Whales (unusual), many Fin Whales, many Long-finned Pilot Whales, many Striped Dolphins, an Orca, a couple of Northern Bottle nosed Whales and a Cuviers Beaked Whale (that cruised right past the ferry). And that is by no means an unusual trip. See the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme's site.
The Canary Islands have some nice cetacean species including Rough-toothed and Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, and Fin, Sei and Sperm Whales. La Gomera seems to be the centre of the action though I haven't been and know little more about it.
Japan appears to have some good whale watching. Bryde's Whale is one of the more unusual species that is seen easily in some areas. A number of places are reputedly good for Baird's Beaked Whale. Other species include Sperm and Humpback Whales, Dall's Porpoise and Rough-toothed Dolphin. For instance, about 90% of trips out of Nachi Katusaura (Naki Marine Whalewatching) (south-east Honshu) see Sperm Whales April-June, Risso's Dolphins June - September and Dwarf sperm Whales July-September.
Korea: Finless Porpoises appear to be in permanent residence around Namhae Island. They can usually be easily spotted from the Namhae Grand Bridge, which offers excellent viewing opportunities.
Madeira: Peter Cartwright visited Madeira in 2008. Atlantic Spotted Dolphins and Bryde's Whale are regular in the (northern) summer, and they also picked up Sei and False Killer Whales. More information is at www.madeirawindbirds.com, www.madeirabirds.com and www.madeira.seawatching.net . He sailed with a company called Rota dos Cetaceos. They have 3 sailings a day from Funchal the capital, and go out in a RIB to swim with dolphins. The company has spotters on land to direct them to the animals, so they have a very high success rate (they offer you a free second trip if you don't see a whale or dolphin). They also do dedicated cetacea watching trips using a motorised catamaran, which only runs three times a week. Another company sails from Calheta on the south-western coast. They sail most days, often twice. They have a motorised boat of traditional design and see a similar selection of stuff too.
Norway: Whale watching around the Lofoten Islands (out of Andennes) is good for Sperm Whales, which we saw, along with a Minke Whale and a pod of Orcas (uncommon).
Oman: There also appears to be very good whale watching off Oman though not much is known about it yet.
The UK & Ireland : Cetacean spotting in the UK is best up in Scotland. Minke Whale watching is run out of the Isle of Mull, where Harbour Porpoises are common, and Risso’s Dolphins occasionally seen. Short-beaked Common Dolphins are regular in these waters too. Head a bit further north on the west coast (up to Gairloch for example) and keep your eyes open for Atlantic White-sided and White-beaked Dolphins (I’ve only seen the latter). There are a well studied group of offshore Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Moray Firth. Orcas are fairly easy to see off Shetland.
There appears to be quite good whale watching off of Ireland too. See this article about Fin Whales off the south coast for instance.
A nice guide to cetacean spotting in Europe is here.
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