The Absolute Best Time for Whale Watching in Newfoundland

The Absolute Best Time for Whale Watching in Newfoundland

Every summer Newfoundland and Labrador hosts the planet’s largest gathering of humpback whales, nesting puffins, and migratory icebergs, which all make for a truly memorable and spectacular trip of a lifetime. With a variety of tour options and locations, there is something for everyone here regardless of age or ability. Whether you’re coming in for a long weekend, planning to stay a while, or here during the off season, you’ll never run out of things to do, people to meet and places to explore.

Whale Watching Season

Summers are a special time in Newfoundland and Labrador. Migratory icebergs travel south from Greenland and the Arctic Ocean to meet migratory whales traveling north for their summer feeding. NL is one of the best places in the world to see both, and April to August conveniently brings them here at the same time.

That being said, May through September is the best time of year for whale watching in Newfoundland and Labrador. Whale tours typically begin in mid-April and last through mid-September. Some outfitters offer tours beginning as soon as March and extending to the end of October. You’ll find there are still plenty of whales to see during the beginning and tail ends of the whale watching season, but with lighter crowds.

A whale tour boat quietly observing humpback whales.

Species

Humpbacks

The largest annual migration of humpback whales happens here off the coast of Newfoundland. Around mid-April, humpbacks begin returning from their southern migration. They stay through September, feeding on huge amounts of capelin and krill to build up their blubber stores for winter. Humpbacks are a favorite among whale watchers because they constantly leap and jump out of the water. At 40-50 feet long, it’s truly a spectacular sight to see.

Orcas

Orcas are another popular favorite among whale watchers because they are easy to recognize, even from far away. They can be seen traveling in pods around northern Labrador and down to the southern part of Newfoundland through the summer months. Orcas are curious and social animals that often breach and jump out of the water, much to the delight of onlookers and whale tour groups.

Minke Whales

At around 18 feet long, Minke whales are the smallest whales you will see in Newfoundland. They’re here all year but are most commonly seen in the spring, summer, and fall months.

Sperm Whales

Sperm Whales (Moby Dick) are commonly seen through the summer months and into the fall. They’re about 60 feet long and known for their huge, rectangular, block-shaped heads.

Fin Whales

Fin whales are famous for being the second largest whale in the world. They have sleek, slender bodies that reach lengths of well over 60 feet. They don’t jump out of the water the way orcas and humpbacks do, but you can see them gracefully gliding near the surface in the summer months.

Puffins

Puffins are sharply dressed seabirds that live year-round in the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador. Every year from April to August, hundreds of thousands of puffins come ashore to nest. Witless Bay is home to half of the breeding Atlantic puffins in North America, but it’s not the only place to see them. They nest all over the coast, so if you come in the summer, you’re sure to see your fair share of these entertaining birds.

Closeup shot of an Atlantic Puffin.

Iceberg Season

Every spring, massive, awe-inspiring icebergs travel from the Arctic Circle and western Greenland down to Newfoundland and Labrador. When the icebergs come to visit, Newfoundlanders know that spring is in full swing. It’s an exciting time that signals the coming summer.

April through August is the best time to visit Newfoundland to see icebergs. And if you’ve never seen one – there are no words or pictures to explain what you’re missing. Icebergs are as unique as snowflakes but on a larger scale; no two are alike in size, shape, or color. These enormous giants range from bright white to deep blue-green. If you’re already planning to come see the whales, consider adjusting your trip so you can see some migratory icebergs at the same time.

If you really love icebergs, don’t miss the annual Iceberg Festival held in and around the St. Anthony area from June 7-16, 2024.

An iceberg floating off the coast of Newfoundland.

Best Areas for Whale Watching

St. John’s

St. John’s has a plethora of whale-watching tours to choose from. Take a catamaran to Witless Bay to see one of the largest puffin nesting areas in the world. In the summertime, the entire area is teeming with seabirds, whales, and visiting icebergs. Plus as the largest city in Newfoundland and Labrador, there’s no shortage of lodging, dining, and shopping options to enjoy while you’re in town.

Trinity Bay

If you’re the adventurous type, consider booking a kayak tour in Trinity Bay. Kayak tours range from 1/2 day excursions to 2-day long trips that include lodging and a hot breakfast. Whichever you choose, you’ll be right on the water alongside icebergs, dolphins, sea caves, humpbacks, rock formations, and the rugged natural coastline where puffins nest in the spring and summer. Book now for the upcoming season: half day tours run May 15 – September 15, 2024, and the 2-day tours run from June 15 – September 15, 2024.

Twillingate

Worth the 5-hour drive from St. John’s: Twillingate is right in the heart of Iceberg Alley, the path that icebergs travel down from Greenland to Labrador. There are plenty of whale species and other wildlife to see, including seabirds, cormorants, and bald eagles. The remoteness of it all is the perfect opportunity to unplug and recharge in the wild natural waters of the Labrador Sea.

Whale Watching Map of Newfoundland

Cost & Pricing

A typical 2-3 hour whale watch boat tour costs around $100 USD for adults. A two-night accommodation package with kayaking and hot breakfast is around $650 per person.

Getting Here

Fly into YYT, St. John’s International Airport. From there, head into town and grab a meal at one of the local restaurants after checking into your hotel. Rent bikes or enjoy a walking tour to see the city. If you’re planning to only explore St. John’s, you may not need a car rental. However if you want to explore outside of St. John’s, you can drive across the whole island to St. Anthony in about 11 hours.

Highest Rated Whale Watch Tours

 

Winter Activities

The 2023 whale watching season is over, but there’s still plenty to do around St. John’s. If you find yourself visiting during the off season, check out some of these year-round activities:

Bottom Line

The coastal waters off Newfoundland and Labrador are a whale watcher’s paradise, teeming with humpbacks, fin whales, minke whales, orcas, puffins, icebergs, capelin, and more. There’s no shortage of exciting things to see and do, and visiting this place truly makes for an unforgettable whale watching experience.