Alaska Whale Watching

Major Marine Tours cruises into Kenai Fjords National Park offer some of the best whale watching opportunities in Alaska. Cruising among some of the world’s largest mammals and observing their behavior is an experience like no other. Like all mammals, whales breathe air into their lungs, making it easy to spot them on the surface of the water as they come up for air in a behavior called spouting. In addition to spouting, you may see more dynamic behaviors such as breaching or lunging. Breaching occurs when a whale leaps more than half-way out of the water. Lunging is similar to breaching, and occurs when less than half of the whale clears the surface of the water. Why do whales breach? Some experts believe that breaching and lunging are part of the feeding habits of whales, while others have observed this behavior as simple playfulness. You may also witness spyhopping, when a whale sticks its head out of the water to examine its surroundings. Finally, you may see lobtailing and slapping. Lobtailing is when a whale lifts its tail fluke out of the water and slaps it down on the water’s surface, often repeating the movement several times. Slapping is when a whale uses its fins or flippers to slap the surface of the water.

Whale Species Found in Kenai Fjords National Park

Humpback whales, orca whales, and gray whales are the most common types of whales seen in Kenai Fjords National Park. Fin whales and minke whales are also found in Kenai Fjords National Park, though sightings of these species are less common.

Humpback whale breaching

Humpback Whale

The giant humpback whale, well known for its spectacular breaching, is very common in Alaskan waters. Weighing up to 40 tons, humpback whales feed mainly on plankton and krill and can consume as much as one ton per day.  Although it’s possible to see humpback whales year-round in Alaska, most migrate to the warmer waters of Hawaii where they reproduce and give birth. This migration takes approximately 4 to 8 weeks and spans nearly 3,500 miles. During the spring, humpbacks migrate back to Alaska, where food, due to extra hours of sunlight for photosynthesis, is abundant. Humpback whales are baleen whales, using fringed plates like a hairy curtain to filter small food from the nutrient rich-Alaskan waters.
Best Viewing Time: May-September

Two orca whales

Orca Whale (Killer Whale) 

Often called killer whales, orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family and have no natural predators. These 15 to 30 foot mammals weigh up to 10 tons, have 3 – 6 foot tall dorsal fins, and are able to swim at speeds of up to 30 mph. Orcas generally travel in pods. Unlike humpbacks, orcas do not display any regular migration patterns. Instead, movement is spurred by ice coverage, socializing with other pods, or the need for a better food supply. The diet of the orca whale is incredibly varied and on any given day can consist of fish, squid, porpoise, seals, birds, or other animals. There are three main classifications of orcas: offshore, resident, and transient. These groups are determined by the highly distinct black and white markings and tall dorsal fins that make each orca unique.
Best Viewing Time: Year-round

Gray whale

Gray Whale 

Gray whales have similar migration habits to humpback whales. Pacific gray whales migrate between Baja and the Bering and Chukchi seas each year, a distance of over 10,000 miles round-trip that takes 6 months to complete. Gray whales deliver their calves in the warm, protected lagoons off the coast of Baja. Newborn gray whales weigh approximately 1,500 pounds and adults can weigh between 16 and 45 tons and reach 36 – 50 feet in length. Gray whales are the only baleen whales that are primarily bottom feeders. They lay on their sides on the ocean floor and suck up sediment, filtering out food with their baleen.
Best Viewing Time: Spring

Fin whale

Fin Whale

Fin whales, also known as finback whales, are the second largest mammals and are among the fastest of all whales, capable of speeds of up to 23 mph. They can be found in all oceans, migrating from the warm waters during the winter to the colder waters during the summer. Like all baleen whales, fin whales feed on small fish and shrimp-like creatures called krill. Fin whales prefer the open ocean and generally travel alone, although pods of 5-6 have been seen together.
Best Viewing Time: May – September

Minke Whale

Minke Whale

Minke whales are the second smallest baleen whale, growing about half the size of humpback whales. They are the most abundant baleen whales in the world and can be found in both the northern and southern hemispheres. The adult minke whale will grow to about 25 – 30 feet in length and can weigh 4 – 5 tons. Minke whales generally travel alone or in small pods of 2-3. They are quiet, shy, and slow-moving. Minke whales are frequently inquisitive and will indulge in “human-watching,” or spyhopping, and are less likely to breach.
Best Viewing Time: May – September

While we can’t guarantee whale sightings, this guide is here to help you plan your Alaska whale watching cruise. Call our reservation line at (907) 274-7300 to find out how the Alaskan whale watching season is going and what whales we have recently seen.