Alaska’s Whale Watching Hot Spot: Frederick Sound


May 20
Whale watching Alaska

Whale watching Alaska


Whale Watching Alaska: Updated 2018

Water. In the space called Frederick Sound, the water waits silently. There’s a grey – or even silver – hue to the air and the frosted breath of everyone on board seems to add to the tension, frozen puffs of cloud suspended in the sky.

We hear it again. From somewhere beyond the stillness comes a soft moan, a slow-motion splash and a spray of white foam.

Humpback whale in Alaska Frederick Sound

Humpback Whales in Frederick Sound

A humpback whale. Then another. Further away to begin with, but then gliding closer and closer. They move with slowness, as though their prehistoric appearance allows them to play with the boundaries of time. Slowly, slowly, slowly, rising into that languid curve, that hump that gives them their name, then slowly, slowly, I can’t hold my breath any more, they slowly submerge. There’s a missing heartbeat before the moment I’ve been watching for arrives…

The tail, that majestic symbol of all the monsters of the deep, rises, pauses, holds, waits, lingers above the water before plunging down again, throwing up a signature of spray.

Whale in Fredrick Sound - Alaska Small Ship Cruises

It’s hard to explain why this moves me so much: one animal, moving as normal. The sight of an earthworm, for example, sliding through mud, wouldn’t fill me with anywhere near this much joy.

Yet sometimes there’s a place for suspending questions and forgetting analysis. And I think that place is Frederick Sound.

Whale watching Alaska Frederick Sound

Alaska Whale Watching Cruise: Make It Happen

I travelled on the “uncruise” between Juneau and Ketchikan in Alaska. You can read a full account of the uncruise experience in Alaska and find booking details over here. 

Alaska Whale Watching Season Dates

Whales begin leaving the warm waters of Mexico in February, arriving in the cooler Alaska waters in April. They tend to stay until September, which is the main cruising season in Alaska anyway. Roads and rail are limited if not non-existent in Alaska so seaplanes or cruising are the best ways to get around.

Frederick Sound has the highest concentration of humpback whales in the northern hemisphere, so your chances of spotting a whale are pretty good!

Which whale watching photo do you like best?


Whale watching Alaska Inside Passage

How to Go Whale Watching in Alaska

Disclosure: I went whale watching in Frederick Sound as a guest of American Safaric Cruises and Inner Sea Discoveries. The trip also involved kayaking, hiking, walking on glaciers and more. I’m completely free to write bad things about them if I want to – but in this case, there’s nothing to say. I’d highly recommend either cruise for whale watching and more in Alaska.


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

  • Angela says:

    They’re all gorgeous! I would probably vote for the last one :)

  • jade says:

    I love what shots with the tail sticking just enough out of the water. Looks like a great tour- I’d love to do it someday.

  • Andrea says:

    I think the second one with the spray is my fav…but they are all wonderful! We went whale watching in New Zealand and loved it – have to do another trip sometime =)

  • I love the close up of the tail just about to breach. It’s beautiful

  • Sabrina says:

    I love the pic where you can see all the water shooting up. We did a whale watch tour in Boston a while back and really enjoyed it too. Such beautiful creatures!

  • Abi says:

    Ah…I still can’t decide. I like the tail just coming out of the water – and I love the one with two whales that looks almost black and white. Decisions, decisions!

  • Sebastian says:

    I Love all the pictures. These mammals are truly amazing. I had a fantastic time on some whale watching cruises in Australia.

    • Abi says:

      I didn’t even realise you could go whale watching in Australia…I definitely need to spend more time there!

  • Patricia says:

    The last one has to be my favourite – so characteristic, and the mountain background is beautiful. We went out at dawn on a rib to watch sperm whales, many years ago now but still one of the most memorable experiences of any trip.
    Great pictures Abi.

  • Juno says:

    My choice is the last one!! :)

  • Abi says:

    Two more votes for the last whale watching pic…pushing it into the lead!

  • AMAZING! love the picture of water shooting out from the whale. Well done!

    • Abi says:

      Thanks. Ah, if I could relive those moments…

  • Bret @ Green Global Travel says:

    The second to last photo is my fave: love seeing the water dripping off the tail. The two best whale-watching trips I’ve ever been on were in Alaska (the Kenai Fjords cruise) and Hawaii’s Big Island. A friend took me out in his Zodiac-style boat in 20-knot winds, with huge humpbacks breaching less than 50 yards from us. Thanks for bringing back some incredible memories!

    • Abi says:

      Oh wow…I would love to see that. Seeing this was incredible enough.

  • They are all stunning photos, but I would definitely choose the last one! I love the tail rising from the water, but even more so, I love the quality of the sky in the background. Absolutely stunning!

  • sofie says:

    I’m going for the last one. It has something mythical and very calming to it.
    Whale watching is something I definitely need to do!

  • Abi says:

    I keep changing my mind each time I come back to these…

  • Sam says:

    Whale watching is always magic, isn’t it. I never got the chance to go to Alaska, but I did see them in Norway, Iceland, the Azores and Madeira. Such magical creatures…

    • Abi King says:

      Yep – absolutely amazing. Last saw them off the coast in Madagascar. Absolutely amazing. Would love to see them in the spots you mention though!

      • Sam says:

        I personally loved Norway. There were so many killer whales and humpbacks! Truly breath taking.
        In the Azores we got really lucky, because one giant just kept swimming right next to us. Not even 3 meters (about 9 feet) away! Magic!!!

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