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Kayaking With Orcas – Where, When & How To Go Whale Watching While Paddling

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Kayaking with orcas is a bucket list adventure for lots of people. Fortunately, there are several places where you have the chance to see an orca in its natural environment from the comfort of your sea kayak. It may be beneficial to join a guided tour with rented kayaks to increase your chances.

Popular Places To See Orcas Via Kayak:
●    Washington (Seattle, San Juan Islands)
●    Oregon
●    Alaska
●    Canada
●    Norway
●    New Zealand

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How Do Kayaking With Whales Tours Work?

There are many guided tours and trips where you can kayak with killer whales in various locations around the world, so there can be many to choose from. Some will offer multi-day camping trips, which can give you a better chance of seeing an orca. However, seeing orcas will usually not be guaranteed on any tour.

Some companies will offer private guided tours for just you and your family while others will offer tours with other family groups. Because there are only so many guides to go around, you may find that booking availability is limited.

At popular times of the year and in popular tourist destinations, tours can book up fast and you may find that your chosen date is unavailable. So it can be important to plan your trip and book your tour well in advance if you know the dates you plan to visit. Many tours can be booked online directly.

A lot of tours will last for several hours, increasing your chances of seeing some wildlife. Some will also tend to include a picnic lunch at a remote beach location where you may also get to see orcas from the land. Usually, you will get the opportunity to see other wildlife, such as birds of prey, seals, and dolphins.

It can also be worth noting that some tour companies may have a minimum age requirement for participation but there will usually be some companies that offer shorter tours that are more child friendly.

Most guided tours will cater to new paddlers and they don’t usually require previous kayaking experience, as you will usually get some basic training before you head out on your trip.

Many of the kayaks used for tours tend to be sea kayaks, with sit-inside cockpits to help protect you from the cold weather and water.

Where Are The Best Places To Go Kayaking With Orcas?

1: Washington (Seattle, San Juan Islands)

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Courtesy: JC.Winkler on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Washington has some of the best spots in the US to watch orcas in the wild, with plenty of tour operators offering the chance to kayak with these endangered creatures.

Seattle has good opportunities to spot orcas with the Puget Sound being home to three resident pods of orcas with a total of 74 killer whales. These orcas can be found all year round in the Puget Sound, the Salish Sea, and the San Juan Islands.

San Juan Island, a ferry ride from Anacortes, can be a good base for a kayak trip, with several tour operators and outfitters, as well as good opportunities to see orcas up close.

Video: Killer Whales - Unreal Encounter On Kayak

When To Go:
May to September can be the best time, as there are also transient pods in the area during the summer. But there are resident pods in Washington all year round.

How Likely To See A Whale:
About a 50% chance.

2: Oregon

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Courtesy: Jeff Hollett on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Orcas can sometimes be seen off the coast of Oregon around the middle of April. These tend to be transient orcas looking to feed on baby gray whales during the spring but they don’t often stay in the area very long - usually only a couple of weeks.

The best places to see them can be around the coast of Newport and even into Yaquina Bay, where they can be found hunting seals and sea lions. You can also spot them around Depoe Bay and occasionally around the mouth of the Columbia River near Astoria.

The Oregon coast can also be a good place to see other whales, such as minke whales and humpback whales, as well as various species of dolphins and porpoises.

When To Go:
Mid-April.

How Likely To See A Whale:
Unlikely.

3: Alaska

Alaska is often considered as having some of the best opportunities to see orcas in their natural habitat. A great place to kayak with orcas is around the Blank Islands, where you’ll find the locally named Orcas Cove. There are kayak tours that depart from Ketchikan, Alaska.

Another great spot is Resurrection Bay with many kayaking tours based in Seward, on the edge of the glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park. Three types of orcas can be found in the area of the Kenai Fjords National Park: resident, offshore and transient.

When To Go:
Early May to early June can be the best times to go but you may be able to see them throughout the summer months.

How Likely To See A Whale:
Around 60% chance in the summer months.

4: Canada

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Courtesy: Adam Campbell on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Vancouver Island in British Columbia can be one of the best places in Canada for whale watching, with more than 30 different species to be found, in addition to large numbers of resident and transient orcas.

There are several kayak tour operators in the area offering day-trips and multi-day trips to kayak with orcas.

Many tours focus on the Johnstone Strait, farther northwest up the Strait of Georgia, which has the world’s largest pod of resident orcas with around 200 killer whales.

When To Go:
July and August can be best for seeing orcas feeding in the Johnstone Strait but they can be seen throughout the summer. From May to October can be a good time to view them in the Strait of Georgia.

How Likely To See A Whale:
Pretty likely during the summer months in Johnstone Strait but not guaranteed.

5: Norway

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Courtesy: Subherwal on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Some of the best places to see orcas in the wild are around Lofoten and in the fjords around Tromso in Norway. You’ll find several guided tours that offer trips to kayak in orca waters. In many cases, you can also see them from the shore.

The winter months can be the best time to see orcas off the coast of Tromso, but they can generally be found year-round between Lofoten and Tromso. Winter can also be an equally good time to see the Northern Lights, so you could combine two bucket list items at once.

When To Go:
October to January off the coast of Tromso but during December it can be too dark to see them. Spring can be best around Lofoten.

How Likely To See A Whale:
Very likely in the fjords in winter.

6: New Zealand

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Courtesy: Steve Bittinger on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

One of the best places to kayak with orcas in New Zealand is Kaikoura on the South Island. During the months of November to March, they can be most visible off the coast but they can generally be found all around New Zealand’s coastline all year round.

Video: Orca Whale Family Swim Under Kayakers

It’s believed that there are roughly up to 200 orcas that hunt around New Zealand’s coastline. Kayak tours and rentals can be found in Kaikoura, with Kaikoura Kayak having a concession to watch whales and dolphins.

When To Go:
November to March.

How Likely To See A Whale:
Low chance.

Is It Safe To Go Kayaking With Whales?

The weather can play an important role in your safety while kayaking with orcas. You’ll often find that if there’s bad weather, tours won’t operate as the conditions could be dangerous.

As for the killer whales, there have been no known or reported cases of an orca attacking a kayaker. However, it can be best to keep a safe distance and in the US and Canada, there are laws to determine what is a safe distance.

In the US you must stay at least 400 yards behind or in front of an orca and 300 yards to the side. In Canada, the law states that you must stay 200 meters away from an orca and 400 meters away if you’re in southern British Columbia waters.

Orcas naturally come up for air, like all mammals, so it’s not uncommon to have an orca breach near your kayak. In this case, it can be a good idea to remain as calm as possible to cause minimal disruption to the orca’s behavior. 

Video: Kayak And Orca In Northern Norway

What To Wear

This will probably depend on the weather and temperature. Clothing that can get wet and dry quickly can be your best bet. The same goes for footwear, so it can be a good idea to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet - better still if they’re designed for water use, dry quickly and have a non-slip sole.

You may also need additional waterproof layers or extra clothing that can be placed in a dry bag.

Some tour companies will often provide dry bags for your extra clothing.

Are You Ready To Book?

Kayaking with orcas can be an experience of a lifetime and one that you will likely remember for years to come. There are many places around the world where you can see these magnificent marine mammals in their natural habitat, with each one offering an abundance of other wildlife as well as beautiful scenery.

Once you’ve chosen your ideal destination, remember to check out the tours and to book well in advance to avoid disappointment. And remember, you may need to spend several days on the water before you see an orca.

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