Our 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. This behavior is called spouting, and is the most commonly-seen whale behavior on our cruises. In addition to spouting, you may see behaviors such as breaching or lunging. Breaching is when a whale leaps more than half-way out of the water, and lunging is when a whale leaps less than half way out of the water. Some experts believe that breaching and lunging are part of the feeding habits of whales, while others believe that this behavior is 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 tail lobbing or tail slapping. Tail lobbing 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. Tail slapping is when a whale uses its fins or flippers to slap the surface of the water.
Major Marine Tours is committed to protecting the health and safety of the whales that inhabit our area. We are a proud member of Whale SENSE, a program sponsored by NOAA Fisheries and Whale & Dolphin Conservation that recognizes companies that are committed to responsible whale watching practices. We abide by all NOAA marine mammal viewing guidelines and promote ocean stewardship through our partnerships with the National Park Service and Alaska SeaLife Center.
Though whales can be seen on all of our cruises throughout the season, these are the best cruises and times to view whales:
Cruise: Gray Whale Watching Cruise
Best viewing: April – May
Cruise: Orca Quest Cruise
Best viewing: May – June
Humpbacks and orcas are the most common types of whales seen in Kenai Fjords National Park. Gray whales are seen only in the spring as they pass through the Gulf of Alaska on their annual migration. Fin whales and minke whales are also found in the area, though sightings of these species are rare.
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.
Viewing Time: April – October
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 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.
Viewing Time: Year-round
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.
Viewing Time: March – May
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.
Viewing Time: May – September
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 whales sightings, this guide is here to help you plan the best time for your Alaska whale watching cruise. You can call our reservations line at (907) 274-7300 to find out how our whale watching season is going and what whales have recently been seen.