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Where to See Orcas Not in Captivity

Shamu Rocks
Shamu Rocks, at Orlando Sea World
courtesy of Miss 
Quarel.

Want to see a killer whale that hasn’t been captured, trained to do tricks and kept in a tiny tank? You’ve got plenty of options other than Sea World, where their primary breeding male was involved in his third human death last week. Instead of seeing the 42 captive orcas go through their routines for your amusement, wouldn’t you rather see them doing what they do naturally?

The Pacific northwest is probably the best place to see killer whales in the world. The whales hang out just to the west of the San Juan Islands in Washington state. Tour boats run to and from the San Juans from all over the region, including from Seattle 90 miles to the south.

Better yet, you can even see them from the shore. Industrious whale lover Donna Sandstrom corralled a pack of agencies to set up The Whale Trail, a series of sites where you can see whales from the shore. Behavioral biologist and author Toni Frohoff, says land-based whale watching is “the ideal form,” because it doesn’t disturb the whales at all. Plus, it’s basically free.

The orcas can also be found up a little north in British Columbia. You can take boat trips off Vancouver Island that will let you see grizzly bears, eagles, sea lions and other kinds of whale. On the other side of Canada, Battle Harbor, Newfoundland has orca pods visit in September. Killer whales are spotted off Hokkaido, the rugged, northern island of Japan.

Orcas can be seen from every continent. Tysfjord, Norway, is the best place in Europe, according to the Complete Whale-Watching Handbook. But you might find the tours off St. David’s, Wales, easier to get to. The orcas that visit Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in May are famous for eating dolphins. Playa Punta Norte in Argentina is where the whales have learned to beach themselves to attack a sea lion colony. (That’s a rare occurrence, but you can see them from shore.) Japan’s northern, rugged island of Hokkaido has lots of orca sightings. Orcas are known to grab stingrays from the ocean floor near Australia, where surfers have paddled around with the whales, too. With all these options who would want to sit on a bench and watch a whale forced through a hoop?


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