Things to consider
- Almost any boat based trip to the Arctic is likely to encounter whales, with 17 different species to be found across the top of the world
- Hot spots include Disko Bay in West Greenland, as well as Svalbard where summer currents rich in nutrients attract cetaceans from across the globe
- The Northwest Passage is home to 75% of the global narwhal population
- Beluga congregate in huge numbers in Hudson Bay over the summer months of July and August
- Travelling on a boat with plenty of deck space is key to ensuring you get the best of any sightings
Where to see whales in the Arctic
Most famous for polar bear sightings, Svalbard is often overlooked as a whale watching destination. It's true that there is a dark history when it comes to man's relationship with whales, and the remains of whalers stations such as Smeerenberg and Bamsebu are testament to the slaughter.
In recent years, however, it is a much happier story where the rich waters attract humpbacks, fin, minke, blue and beluga whales and numbers are growing year by year. Svalbard is also easy to access and has a huge amount more to offer the visitor from birdlife to bears and scenery to exploration history.
Svalbard whale-watching trips
Lancaster Sound, a wildlife superhighway, opens each year for a couple of months as the ice retreats, allowing boats to navigate the channels that make up the Northwest Passage. Along this edge of ice runs a rich seam of zooplankton, a particular favourite of the massive bowhead whale who can eat up to 100 tonnes of them a year.
In the shallow water, narwhal and beluga hunt fish and shrimp and stay away from orca as best they can. Expeditions to the Northwest Passage offer amazing opportunities to see these rare cetaceans and many trips start or end in West Greenland, adding Disko Bay which is famous for its humpbacks, to the spectacle.
Northwest Passage whale watching trips
This comprehensive westbound voyage stands out for its compelling combination of West Greenland, in-depth exploration of remote Baffin Island and the historic Northwest Passage. Jaw dropping scenery, towering icebergs, thrilling wildlife encounters, Inuit community visits and fascinating history pervade this…
For just a couple of months in late summer (July & August) thousands of beluga whales gather in Hudson Bay to feast on the rich waters of the Churchill River and to calve in the shallow, relatively warm waters. This amazing migration allows you to get up close to these cetaceans, affectionately known as sea canaries, either by boat, kayak or even by getting in the water with them.
Further north there are ice camps where you can catch sight of the elusive narwhal or 'Unicorns of the Sea' as they follow the ice edge during May and June. These trips also offer the chance of polar bears and beluga in one of the remotest corners on the planet.
Churchill whale watching trips
Fly deep inside the Arctic Circle to a remote tented lodge offering outstanding opportunities for close interaction with Beluga whales, as part of a very special overall Arctic experience. Run by polar explorer Richard Weber, it's perfect for wilderness lovers.…
While much of Greenland is ice trapped during the winter months, when the sun appears and the sea starts to move again the waters quickly fill with life. There are now fifteen species of whale that frequent these waters. While the beluga, narwhal and bowhead remain year round, the other species including humpback, minke and fin only pass by in warmer months.
In recent years the number of bowheads sighted in East Greenland has grown substantially. This magnificent mammal can live for 200 years (as evidenced by the find of an ancient harpoon found in an animal that had died of old age) and grow up 20m (66ft) long!
In West Greenland, Disko Bay becomes the humpbacks playground in the summer as they chase down herring-type fish in their tens of thousands. In the capital, Nuuk, it is not unheard of for residents to complain of a lack of sleep due to the noise made by humpback whales in the bay!
Greenland whale watching trips
Spending time exploring Canada’s historic Northwest Passage and West Greenland, we like this voyage’s balance and variety as much as exploring little visited places like Thule, one of the northernmost towns in the world. Big ice, rich history, exotic wildlife,…
This truly expeditionary voyage stands out as one of the few to really explore southwest Greenland in-depth. Beginning and ending in Kangerlussuaq, experience Greenland’s rich Viking past and the incredible Ilulissat icefjord, into which 35 billion tonnes of icebergs calve…
We'd really recommend choosing a trip that allows you to kayak in the presence of whales. There's nothing like being that close, with no sound but your paddles and the graceful rise and fall of these giants in the water.