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Cruising to Alaska: Adventures in Whale Watching

Where Can You See Whales In Alaska?

If you’re cruising to Alaska, there are countless things to do in the U.S.’s largest state. One of the most unique experiences that Alaska cruisers can look forward to is whale watching. The Inside Passage is where Norwegian’s cruise ships make their way to various destinations, like Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway, and it’s also a zone that’s primed for observing whales in the wild. While many cruisers are able to see different species of marine life right from the deck, taking an excursion can get passengers an even closer look. When on an Alaskan whale watching cruise, you may just witness some of the following.

What's the Best Time for Whale Watching in Alaska?

Spring and summer are ideal times for whale watching in Alaska, particularly from the months of May through September. Whales begin to migrate toward Alaska in February and arrive in April. You may have a good chance at seeing a while right from the deck of the ship if you're cruising during these months. But to be sure, a whale watching shore excursion is certainly the way to go.

See Orca Whales on Norwegian's Cruise to Alaska

What Kind of Whales Do You See In Alaska?

1. Orcas

Orcas aren’t technically classified as whales, but they are the largest in the dolphin family and are known widely as “Killer Whales”. These majestic mammals can typically be seen from May to September along the Inside Passage where they fish, play, and rear their young. According to National Geographic, orcas can grow up to 32 feet long and weigh up to 6 tons, making them about twice the size of the average great white shark.

Orcas also live in family pods with dozens of individuals and send unique sounds to one another through the water. Not unlike wolf packs, orcas use cooperative hunting tactics, like herding fish into an accessible zone or throwing themselves onto shore, to capture prey. Cruisers may be able to witness these activities as well as their more playful behaviors such as tail slapping, breaching, and poking their heads out of the water to get a glimpse of the surface.

In addition to chance sightings from the cruise ship, guests on Norwegian's Alaskan cruises can get close up sightings of orca pods in action by booking one of our whale watching excursions. The Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest and the Ocean Wildlife and Orca Exploration excursions are perfect for close-up sightings of not only wild orcas but also humpback whales, sea lions, and porpoises.

See Humpback Whales on Norwegian's Cruise to Alaska

2. Humpback Whales

From June to September, these giant whales travel through the Inside Passage exposing their activities to cruisers, which include breaching and splashing, bobbing their heads above the surface of the water, tail slapping, and flipper slapping. These magnificent displays are intensified by their habit of doing it in groups to vie for female mates.

Female humpback whales, which tend to be larger than males, can grow up to nearly 50 feet long and can weigh as much as 35 tons. Whale watchers may spot one of these massive females from the ship or excursion site, and they may also witness one of the whales’ sophisticated hunting techniques. Many scientists and observers have documented intelligent humpback whales corralling small fish by blowing bubbles before eating them in a process that is known as bubble-netting.

The Alaska’s Whales and Rainforest Trails excursion includes guaranteed whale sightings as well as a hike through a secluded rainforest trail where other wildlife can be observed on land. The Whale Watching and Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari also includes whale sightings on a safari boat complete with a professional photography guide to help you get the perfect shot.

See Gray Whales on Norwegian's Cruise to Alaska

3. Gray Whales

Gray whales migrate to Alaska every year from southern California for feeding and breeding. Thousands of these whales swim along the coast during the fall and can be seen from places like Ketchikan as well as at sea. Gray whales are roughly the same size as humpback whales, but they can be distinguished by their smaller flippers and barnacle covered skin.

Cruisers on whale watching excursions can catch a glimpse of these unique looking whales, and if they're lucky they may also spot minke whales making their way through the water. Minke whales are smaller and much more elusive, briefly surfacing for air before heading down to greater depths. These whales also prefer to swim alone or in pairs, and catching a photo or video of them is a rare and prized event.

In addition to whales and orcas, passengers of wildlife and whale watching excursions can spot dall’s porpoises, which look like mini versions of killer whales, stellar sea lions, sea otters, and bald eagles. These sightings and excursions are available on all of our Alaskan cruises including our popular 7-Day Alaska Highlights from Seattle cruise.

Enjoy Whale Watching on a Cruise to Alaska

What to Bring for Whale Watching in Alaska

Whether you decide to book a shore excursion or do some whale watching from the deck of the cruise ship, make sure to bring a pair of binoculars to get a glimpse of the wildlife at further distances on your Alaska cruise. In addition, pack a good camera for capturing stunning photos and videos as well as extra camera batteries and a backup memory card. For yourself, bring a light waterproof jacket, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to guard against the elements. You may also want to pack water and a snack to eat while you wait for the animals to surface.