The winter chill may have many of us bundled up and huddled around the fireplace, but the ocean’s largest mammals know just where to go to escape to warmer waters. As whales make their great winter migrations, you can follow them to warmer climates for a whale-watching vacation you won’t soon forget. Here are four of the top places to spot whales in their natural habitat this winter.
You won’t have to look hard or far off the Oregon Coast to catch sight of grey whales, which pass through the Pacific Northwest throughout the year. According to the Oregon Coast Visitors Association, 18,000 whales pass by the Beaver State as they make their way down to Mexico in December and January, with as many as 30 whales passing by per hour at the peak of migration season. Pack binoculars and follow the sprays of water shooting up from the ocean for your best bet at spotting grey whales.
As the grey whales make their way to the warm south in the winter months, you can meet them south of the border off the coast of Baja, Mexico. These 50-foot-long mammals take up residence in the lagoons of Baja, most notably San Ignacio, which has sheltered grey whales for thousands of years. Book an ecotour cruise or a private boat to access the lagoons and meet these grey whales — they often approach boats for a friendly back scratch.
Humpback whales, or kohola, call Hawaii home from December to May, when the warm, shallow waters become a breeding ground for the next generation of baby whales. The best isle to catch sight of these impressive aquatic creatures? Maui, where you can watch for the humpbacks from the shores or hop on a whale watching cruise to see whales glide in and out of the water up close. Tours generally run through April.
Kaikoura, New Zealand
The eco-friendly destination of New Zealand is prime whale-watching real estate all year long, especially the southern coastal town of Kaikoura, renowned worldwide for its whale population. Sperm whales call Kaikoura their permanent home, but through December and March, you can also spot orcas jumping in the waters off New Zealand’s shores. An added bonus? You’re likely to see dolphins frolicking in the water, too.
(Main image: jc.winkler)