The best place to see orcas is in their natural habitat—the ocean. Luckily for avid whale watchers, orcas are found in every ocean. From Alaska to the Galapagos Islands, you’ll find plenty of open-water opportunities to see these beautiful creatures.
If you’re hoping to spot killer whales in the wild, these are some of the best places to see them around the world.
Puget Sound in Seattle is a year-round orca playground. There are two different types of orcas that ply Western Pacific waters: resident and transient orcas.
Resident orcas live in pods that operate as family units, feed on salmon, and remain in Puget Sound and nearby coastal waters.
Transient orcas typically travel in small groups of two to six. They’re often found in the waters around the West Coast of Canada and the U.S. hunting for seals, sea lions, porpoises, and even gray whales.
You may be able to spot orcas from the shore at Alki Beach in West Seattle, too. In fact, there are multiple points along Puget Sound from which you can sight transient orcas during the fall months and Southern Resident killer whales all year long.
The San Juan Islands off the coast of northwestern Washington are known for being one of the best places to see orcas in the wild. It’s about a 90-minute drive from Seattle to Anacortes, then a short ferry ride across the sound to Friday Harbor, where many whale-watching outfitters leave on daily excursions. There are also whale-watching tours that begin with a flight from Seattle to the San Juan Islands. Whale watching here is one of the best things to do in the Pacific Northwest.
Victoria, British Columbia
Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is the Canadian gateway for orca experiences. The city provides easy access to the Salish Sea, where orca pods frequent from May through October.
Board a high-speed sightseeing vessel with a knowledgeable crew who will offer lively commentary about orcas and other whales and wildlife you’re likely to see.
Orca-watching tours are available by seaplane from Victoria, where you may catch sight of whales and other wildlife from above. Visit Juan de Fuca and Haro Straits to see three resident Southern Orca pods.
Orcas enjoy a special relationship to this region, making whale-watching one of the top things to do in Victoria. It is evident in the orca sculptures and topiary that you’ll see around the city, like at Butchart Gardens.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Across the Strait of Georgia from Victoria, the city of Vancouver is another popular destination to see orcas in the wild. Prime season here also runs from May through October.
In late summer, watch for transient orcas in the Strait of Georgia waters, around the Gulf Islands, and the San Juan Islands.
If you’re vacationing on Vancouver Island, orca excursions by kayak or whale-watching boats visit the Broughton Archipelago from Port McNeill, Alert Bay, and Telegraph Cove on the island’s northeast coast.
In the Alaskan fishing town of Ketchikan, orcas can be sighted April through June, as they seek meals of Chinook salmon making their way to spawning rivers. You may catch them breaching the water when they’ve had their fill.
Juneau offers some of the best opportunities to see orcas, as they tend to look for food like seals, swimming moose, and even other types of whales around Stephens Passage.
When visiting Icy Strait Point, the Hoonah ancestors of the Tlingit tribe will tell you of the revered status of orcas in their culture and folktales. On whale-watching tours in late summer, it’s possible to spot orcas, along with humpback whales, in Glacier Bay and Icy Strait Point.
In Skagway, you may see orcas when you book an ocean raft wildlife adventure in the Lynn Canal, where they often search and catch sea lions or seals right before your eyes.
If you make your way to Seward, don’t miss out on a day trip to Kenai Fjords National Park, where you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see orcas in the wild. From mid-May through mid-June, both resident orca pods and transients frequent the waters of Kenai Fjords National Park’s Resurrection Bay, gliding by in search of food with their prominent dorsal fin announcing their presence.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
During a trip to the Galapagos Islands, you’ll likely spot orcas as you make your way around the archipelago near Ecuador.
In addition to the spectacular number of endemic and nesting species, you may be lucky enough to see both resident Galapagos orcas and transient orcas.
Resident orcas live in the temperate waters around the islands all year and feed on the plentiful fish in the area.
Transient orcas arrive in pods and swim around the islands where sea lions typically congregate, such as Egas Point on Santiago Island or Rabida Island. There, they like to prey on penguins, turtles, and even humpback whales.
Auckland, New Zealand
It might come as a surprise that New Zealand ranks as one of the best places to see orcas in the wild. It has a year-round resident population of orcas, with about 150 to 200 orcas often seen traveling along New Zealand’s coast.
In Auckland, a pod of resident orcas can be seen from December to March. In Wellington, pods of orcas are found in Wellington Harbor throughout spring and summer, looking for other food sources.
Roughly half of the world’s orca population resides in Antarctica for at least part of the year, so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the best places to see orcas in the wild. It’s estimated that 25,000 orcas ply the iceberg-laden waters around Cape Horn, Gerlache Strait, Paradise Bay, and Schollart Channel.
From December to March, it’s possible to see orcas cutting through the waves of the Beagle Channel or crashing into icebergs near Ushuaia to force unsuspecting sea lions and penguins to fall into the water as prey.
Puerto Madryn, Argentina
In Puerto Madryn, Argentina, orcas are present but sometimes stealthily hide. Locally, their nickname is lobos (wolves). They beach themselves at high tide in order to capture sea lion pups.
Visit Caleta Valdes for possible orca sightings and to learn about the wildlife and conservation efforts of the Peninsula Valdes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Orcas are constantly passing through the Pacific waters of Monterey Bay on their way north to even colder waters. The best time to spot orcas is mid-April through mid-May and August through October, though you can experience a whale-watching Zodiac boat tour year-round.
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