Juneau Alaska Whale Watching

Tips For Finding The Best Whale Watching Tours in Juneau

Whale watching is one of the most incredible experiences you can have and looking for whale watching tours in Juneau is the first step in that majestic adventure. While you may think that the only difference in whale watching tours is price, there is more to it than hopping on a boat and sailing to where the whales are. Choosing the wrong tour can lead to uncomfortable experiences involving bustling crowds, inexperienced crew, unsuitable vessels, and safety concerns.

You don’t want to go out on the sea with an inexperienced crew or on a boat packed with too many other adventurers. So, how can you go about picking the right whale watching tours? Well, let’s go over some tips to help you choose the best tour for your whale watching trip.

The Crew

When looking for whale watching tours in Alaska, look at the crew first. A boat managed by an inexperienced crew can be an unsafe excursion and the last thing you want is worry on the water. There is nothing wrong with calling the tour or field office and asking about how their staff is trained, or how long they have been in operation. After all, you’re literally in their hands. Ideally, the business is not only locally owned and operated, they also should have years and years of local knowledge of the seas.

What’s the Focus?

In places where marine tours are big tourism dollars, many companies will offer whale watching as a side note on the way to other, more lucrative, activities. You will see countless means of advertising with several “packages” and various ways of branding and selling a whale watch. Try to keep focused on the real experience you want.

What About the Boat?

The kind of boat used is perhaps the most important deciding factor when choosing a whale watching excursion. Different vessels are designed for the various natures of their work. Boats dedicated to whale watching and wildlife viewing should employ several criteria. For example, a catamaran boat is the most stable option for the local waters. To get the most out of your whale watching experience, you will want to see the most whale behavior as possible. Look at the layout of the boat, and decide if you can easily move about the vessel to the front and the back. The boat should have 360 degree viewing through clean and maintained windows as well as a spacious back deck. The back deck can provide the amazing experience of being immersed into the whale’s world, without getting wet, of course. The back deck should have handrails for safety, as well as steady photography. The length of the vessel and carrying capacity is very important to look at as well. Many companies operating out of Juneau have boats that are very small in that they are personal, yet they are not catamarans and are heavily affected by the choppy seas of Alaska resulting in sub-par and shakey photos. Many companies look to avoid that issue so instead turn to massive double decked vessels that fit hundreds of passengers. This experience is smoother on the water, yet it is very difficult to have a successful whale watch when so many people are fighting for the best locations around the boat as the whales move around. The boat size should accommodate your group, yet be safe. Look for a medium sized catamaran vessel with a large back deck.  Make sure the kind of the boat the whale watching tour uses matches your expectations.

What’s Included?

Alaskan whale watching tours can take a while. Sailing out to the spot and back plus the time you spend watching. Does the tour include snacks or a meal? Does it include something to drink or a poncho? These are not quick trips and so, it is best to ask about things like that. Your comfort and confidence on the water is what can make or break a trip.

Whale Watching

Will you get right next to a whale? There are marine wildlife protection laws in place about approaching whales to an unsafe distance. Whales are curious and very smart marine mammals who often take the opportunity to check out boats and swim up close! Other times the whales are only worried about feeding, and they could care less about the vessels observing them. Different companies have different standards about the conservation of marine wildlife. Choosing an established, local, company will know how to give the best whale watching experience within the guidelines. Captains with experience know how to position the boat, without disturbing the whales, and give the majestic creatures a chance to come approach the vessel if they chose to be curious.

The Cost

You knew it had to be here somewhere as the cost of most Juneau whale watching tours matters a great deal. Different companies offer different amenities, crew training, equipment, lengths, or packages. So, price is definitely a factor. Compare and contrast what different tours offer as well as what you want out of your whale excursion. Why pay more for an experience you’re not interested in or pay less for subpar one? See what each business brings to the table and decide if you’re getting the bang for your buck.

The Charter

Rather than take an overcrowded boat, you can private charter a boat that fits a smaller amount of passengers. It’s a good way to not fight for the sight of a whale. With that, it’s probably best to go for tours that are more “exclusive”. For instance, Alaska Fjordlines offers tours aboard the Fjordland, a 65’ catamaran designed especially for the local waters with whale watching in mind. This is best for smaller groups, such as family groups cruising together,  and keeps it affordable without detracting from the whale watching experience. Why shuffle and bustle your way to the edge of a boat like it’s a concert when you can have a more intimate experience during your whale adventure?

Watch the Whale Wonders!

When all is said and done, take a look at what you want out of your Juneau whale watching tours and that’ll guide you to appropriate companies. After you know what you want to see or experience, use these tips to find the best company for you. There is no right answer as it’s your adventure to be had. Remember to check out what each tour offers, what kind of boat and crew they have, as well as the prices of the tour and you’ll do just fine.

Get out there and find your whale adventure, it’ll be the experience of a lifetime!

Great Tour!

Image by Bill McRoberts

Great tour! Whales, Bear, Sea Lions, Eagles and Porpoises against an amazing backdrop of mountains, glaciers and water.

“Great trip and lots of wildlife!!”

“Highly recommended! We had two great trips with Alaska Fjordlines (Juneau-Haines and Skagway-Juneau) George the captain and deckhands Libby and Lexia were great telling us about the landscape and wildlife we saw along the way. We were lucky enough to see Dall’s Porpoises, Steller Sea lions, bald eagles, Harbour Seals, a humpback and a pod of orcas. It was amazing and definitely a highlight of our trip! ”

Waterfalls of Lynn Canal

Waterfalls of Lynn Canal: Sawmill Falls, Long Falls, Stair Step Falls, Ribbon Falls, Mermaid Falls, and Trumpet Falls

Why are there so many waterfalls in Lynn Canal? Lynn Canal is our continents longest and deepest glacial fjord. A  fjord is formed when a glacier retreats, after carving its typical U-shaped valley, and the sea fills the resulting valley floor.  A fjord is a narrow, steep sided inlet and there are ice fields above with melting glaciers that fall down the steep walls creating the many beautiful waterfalls you see in Lynn Canal.

We are on “Whale Time” at Alaska Fjordlines.

Whale Watching

What is Whale Time? We build in “whale stops” into our Fjord Express to Juneau schedule. The Fjordland cruises at 28 knots (30 mph) which allows us time to stop for whales, sea lions, seals, nesting eagles, waterfalls and the Eldred Rock Lighthouse. Ride the Fjord Express and get on “Whale Time” with us!

Orcas in Lynn Canal!

Killer Whales ply the waters of Lynn Canal.

What is more exciting than seeing Orca or Killer Whales? One of the most iconic symbols of the ocean, the Orca is known by its tall dorsal fin and characteristic black and white color pattern. It is always a treat to see them on our Fjord Express to Juneau cruises.

The biggest waterfall on our route, Sawmill Falls.

Sawmill Falls is feed by glacier melt off from high above in the Juneau Ice Field which lies in the Coast Mountain Range. At the turn of the century the waterfalls powered a sawmill that was used to build the town of Skagway, Alaska.  Sawmill Falls is a regular stop on our route on the Fjord Express to Juneau.
Ron Horn photo.

Sea Lion City on Lynn Canal.

On a recent charter between Haines and Juneau the crew counted over 1,000 Steller Sea Lions hauled out on the rocks near “Sea Lion Rock”.  During the spring and summer the sea lions gather to rookeries to breed and pup. They use haulouts on land to rest and suckle their young.  When swimming, Steller sea lions use their front flippers for propulsion and their back flippers to steer. When on land, they use a “rolling walk” on all four flippers by pulling their hind flippers under their body. Steller sea lions are good climbers, often found high above the waterline on the rocky cliffs.  The Steller Sea Lion is the largest eared seal and largest sea lion species. The average weight of an adult male is 1,245 pounds and can reach up to 2,000 pounds. Sea Lion Rock is a regular stop on the Fjord Express to Juneau.

 Image by Bill McRoberts

Sea Lion rock is a regular stop on the Fjord Express to Juneau.

Whale Watching out of Skagway Alaska and Whitehorse Yukon.

Take the Klondike Highway from Whitehorse Yukon to Skagway Alaska,  a short 2 hour drive from the interior of the Yukon to the headwaters of the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska. From Skagway you can board a high speed catamaran for a day cruise on the Fjord Express to Juneau. In one day, see Lynn Canal, our continents longest and deepest glacier fjord as well as whales, sea lions, seals, eagles, porpoise, lighthouses, waterfalls, glaciers, Juneau and MORE!