Top whale-watching trips for paddlers

Videographer David Hartman’s recent footage of two orca (killer) whales practicing their synchronized swimming off the British Columbia coast reveals the thrill of sea kayaking with the planet’s largest biota.

Johnstone Strait, B.C. Photo: Gary Luhm
Johnstone Strait, B.C. Photo: Gary Luhm

A guest of Quadra Island, B.C.-based outfitter Spirit of the West Adventures, Hartman encountered orcas and humpback whales in the tide-washed waters of Johnstone Strait and the Broughton Archipelago, a legendary whale-watching destination that’s also provided research scientists with rich insights into the biology and social structure of whales.

Here are three other favorite places to paddle with whales:

Saguenay, Quebec. Photo Conor Mihell
Saguenay, Quebec. Photo Conor Mihell

Saguenay-St. Lawrence, Quebec

Deep, cold water, nutrient-rich water makes the north shore of the St. Lawrence home to at least six species of whales in the summer months. Numerous campgrounds near the historic town of Tadoussac give paddlers easy access to day trips in Parks Canada’s Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, where encounters with beluga, minke, fin and blue whales are common. The nearby Saguenay River is renowned for its beluga whales, and offers backcountry campsites in a stunning granite fjord. Besides great wildlife, expect friendly people and excellent French Canadian cuisine.

Species of whales: Beluga, Minke, Fin, Blue, Humpback, Sperm, Orca
Best time of year: Late July to early September

Saguenay, Quebec. Photo Conor Mihell
Saguenay, Quebec. Photo Conor Mihell

Maui, Hawaii

The warm, shallow water off the southwest coast of Maui is prime breeding and birthing habitat for humpback whales, which migrate to the area each autumn from as far north as Alaska. Launch from Olowalu or Makena to access the 1,400-square-mile Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, which was established in 1992 to protect the densest seasonal congregations of humpbacks in the world.

Species of whales: Humpback
Best time of year: December to April

Baja, Mexico

The sheltered lagoons of Magdalena Bay on the Pacific Coast are prolific calving areas for gray whales, which migrate to this warm-water sanctuary from the Bering Strait. Meanwhile, on the Sea of Cortez, Loreto Bay provides habitat for fin and blue whales—and is part of popular sea kayak routes to Isla Carmen and the coastal journey north from Le Paz. Read our exclusive tips for sea kayaking in Baja, Mexico.

Species of whales: Gray, Fin, Blue
Best time of year: January to March

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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