Best time to travel to Florida

Whale Watching in Florida

The population of endangered Northern right whales is recovering in Florida

Best time: December–March

Whale Watching

A manatee is undoubtedly Florida's most famous sea mammal. However, you can see another gentle giant in Florida's waters: Northern right whale. After spending summer in New England and Nova Scotia, endangered right whales migrate to the warm Florida waters from December to March. About 150 right whales spend winter in the coastal waters of northern and central parts of the state. Many females arrive to Florida pregnant and give birth to calves in warm Atlantic ocean waters.

Best places for whale watching

You can see majestic right whales along the Northeastern Florida shoreline. The area between Jacksonville and Cape Canaveral is the premier whale-watching location in the Sunshine State. Many nature enthusiasts try spotting whales from the shore at 800-ft (243 m) Flagler Beach Pier, along A1A highway. People have also seen whales from St. Augustine's Beach Pier and from Daytona Beach Mainstreet Pier and especially the Sunglow Fishing Pier.

Whale-watching tours

Unfortunately, there are no organized whale watching tours in Florida since whale spotting is rather hard to predict. Also, mothers and calves might be stressed because of tourist boats. There have been cases when calves were killed as a result of a collision with boats. Vessels are required to stay 500 yards (457 m) away from whales. However, Florida residents and visitors see whales in the ocean all the time, so everyone might get lucky. Also, there's a chance to spot whales on a dolphin-watching cruise. Florida Water Tours organize 2-hour sea excursions in Matanzas Bay all year round. There have been numerous whale sightings near Matanzas Inlet.

Whale-watching season

February is the best month to spot whales in northeastern Florida. Their calving season also falls on late winter. January is another good month when whales are spotted frequently. Chances decrease in March. In April calves get stronger, and whales head back to New England and Canada, drawn by the Gulf Stream currents, so they move further away from the shore.

Northern right whales facts

Scientists estimate that the total number of Northern right whales is about 490. From 75 to 200 of them are regularly spotted off Florida's shore during winters. Adults are 35-60 feet long (10-18 m) and weigh 50-70 tons. The average weight of a newborn calf is 1,984 lb (900 kg) and length—5 m (16.4 ft). Right whales can be recognized by callosities, white patches of roughened skin on their heads. Northern right whales are very slow swimmers which helps to spot them. They are a joy to watch as they often breach, tail-slap, and lobtail. These whales reproduce very slowly as females are breeding just once in 3-5 years. Their lifespan is about 70 years.

Humpback whales facts

Humpback whales are also sometimes spotted in Florida waters. They are the most abundant whale species in the Atlantic and they are occasionally seen along Florida's Treasure Coast (around Port St. Lucie) and along the western coast of the Sunshine State. Humpbacks communicate through melodious calls that can be called "songs." These "songs" last up to 20 minutes. Being up to 55 ft (16 m) in length, humpbacks have flukes unique to each individual.

Whale-watching tips

Observing whales from the shore is rather tricky. Make sure to get powerful binoculars and a camera with a telephoto lens if you plan to take pictures. Keep an eye for whale spouts as well as birds and dolphins that sometimes can be seen around whales.

Where to stay

Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Daytona Beach and Flager Beach have many waterfront hotels with beautiful ocean views. Winter is also time for big discounts on accomodation. Check out some of the options below.

Practical info

When is the best time to visit Florida for whale watching?

For the chance to spot Northern right whales in Florida, visit between December and March, with February being the prime month. During this time, whales migrate to Florida's warm waters, making them easier to spot. By end of March, they return to their summer breeding grounds. It's best to schedule sight-seeing from late morning to early afternoon during sunny weather, when coastal spotting is at its best. Show more

Where are the best places to spot right whales in Florida?

The Northeastern Florida shoreline, especially between Jacksonville and Cape Canaveral, offers optimal opportunities to spot Northern right whales in Florida. Some popular spots are Flagler Beach Pier at A1A highway and St. Augustine's Beach Pier. Daytona Beach Mainstreet Pier and Sunglow Fishing Pier are two other places. People can also look near the Matanzas Bay inlet since this place is noted for sightings. Show more

Are there organized whale watching tours in Florida?

There are no organized whale watching tours in Florida, but whale spotting can be experienced by cruising in waters near the Matanzas Inlet. It is cautioned to stay 500 yards away from the whales to reduce their stress and avoid fatal collisions since mothers and calves often come in contact with boats. Any near encounter with the species cannot be assured due to this restriction. Show more

What are the Northern right whales' unique features?

One can recognize the Northern right whales by callosities, white rough skin patches on their heads, unique to each whale, similar to human fingerprints. They are slow swimmers, and tail-slaps, lobtailing, and breaching make a fascinating display. Females breed once every 3-5 years, and calves weigh about a ton at birth. Adults can grow up to 60 feet long and weigh 70 tons. They have a lifespan of around 70 years. Show more

What are the tips for whale watching from the shore in Florida?

Watching whales from the Florida shore can be quite challenging. Reliable and powerful binoculars and a camera with a telephoto lens are necessary equipment. A lookout for whale spouts and other aquatic life like birds and dolphins that often swim around the whales is a must. Ideal sightseeing timing is on bright sunny days from late morning to early afternoon. One should anchor themselves on a high point and arm themselves with patience; a tripod and polarized filter help for better photography. Show more

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Authors: Olha Savych