Chile’s extensive Pacific coastline, stretching over 4,000km and featuring some truly remote and unspoiled scenery, provides a spectacular backdrop to whale and dolphin watching. The Humboldt Current Marine Ecosystem, which causes upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water, provides the basis for a rich and diverse array of whale and dolphin species from the country’s northern border down to Chilean Patagonia. The coastline from Patagonia down toward Chiles’s sub-polar southern tip is characterised by a network of islands, fjords and channels fed by freshwater flowing from the Andes. These rich and diverse habitats allow Chile to host nearly 40% of the world’s whale and dolphin species in its waters. A number of baleen whale species can be observed close to shore as they migrate between warmer breeding grounds to the north and rich Antarctic feeding grounds. The country’s waters also host resident populations of dolphins, including Peale’s and Commerson’s dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Burmeister’s porpoises and endemic Chilean dolphins. Commercial whale watching was launched in the 1990s and has become increasingly popular over time1.
Target species, peak times of year and locations
Most whale watching in Chile takes place during the Austral summer months between December and March or April, although in Arica, Chile’s northernmost whale watching location, tours are possible year-round.
Trips leaving from La Serena or Chañaral de Aceituno, on the Atacama desert coast, often combine desert wildlife viewing with penguin, whale and dolphin watching trips. Boat trips leaving from Punta Choros visit the Damas and Choros Islands, while those leaving from Chañaral de Aceituno visit Chañaral Island. Here it is possible to see fin whales and bottlenose dolphins almost year-round, while Risso’s dolphins and humpback and blue whales are more likely to be encountered between December and March.
Another well-known whale watching area is the Chiloé Archipelago. The islands in the archipelago provide some good opportunities for shore-based whale watching, with boat-based trips around Puñihuil, as well as Melinka Island, where the Gulf of Corcovado provides some of the best opportunities to observe blue whales anywhere in the world.
Further south, day trips leaving from Punta Arenas can take tourists into the Francisco Colaone Marine Park to see a number of dolphin species, as well as humpback whales, in the area’s vast network of channels and fjords. Punta Arenas, near the southern tip of Chile, is also the launching point for many live-aboard cruises into the Magellan Straits and to the Antarctic, where a number of whale species can be observed on their feeding grounds during the Austral summer (see the case study on the Antarctic for more details).