Travel Tips 

Marine Wildlife Watching: National Parks Edition

Marine wildlife watching is an underrate national park activity. The impressive mountain ranges get all the attention, but the rich coastal waters of America's seashores and oceanic national parks are full of wildlife that can be safely and responsibly observed year-round.
Prepared By:

Shannon Lowery

Adventurer & Writer

If you think marine wildlife watching offers nothing but ocean waves and coastal breezes, think again. From America’s national seashores to National Parks at sea, there’s no shortage of incredible wildlife to see above and below the water’s surface.

Whale Watching at Channel Islands National Park

Year-round, different species of the ocean’s gentle giants can be seen from coast-to-coast, but especially along the California shoreline. In fact, visitors can whale watch from any of California’s coastal national parks. Visit at any time of year for the chance to encounter these majestic creatures. At Channel Islands National Park, you’ll see gray whales on the move from December to mid-April. In the summer months, you’re more likely to spot humpback or blue whales, the latter of which are the largest known animals on earth! 

Marine Wildlife Watching in Channel Islands National Park
Birdwatching Flamingos Marine Wildlife Watching in the US Virgin Islands National Park

Bird Watching at US Virgin Islands National Park

With over 100 species of birds, 300 species of fish, and 22 kinds of mammals, the US Virgin Islands National Park is an absolute feast of wildlife wonders. Hence, be sure to bring a camera to capture creatures from afar. Birdwatching is a favorite activity here thanks to the array of both migratory and native birds to the area. For aquatic adventures, take your whole family out snorkeling in shallow waters to get up close and personal with a colorful kaleidoscopic of island fish. In addition, if you’re a licensed diver, you can engage in a fully immersive underwater wildlife viewing experience.

Sea Turtle Watching at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas

From June to August, watch in wonder as baby sea turtles waddle into the ocean at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. Adorable and amazing, these little creatures are not something you’ll see every day! Luckily, many of America’s national seashores are sea turtle nesting sites. Be sure to review sea turtle safety tips before hitting the sand. Regardless of age, size or season, but especially for new hatchlings, light pollution, human interference and unfavorable beach conditions can pose a serious threat to this species of endangered marine wildlife.

Marine Wildlife Watching for Sea Turtles on San Padre Island National Seashore
Marine Wildlife Watching Seals in Hawaii

Seal Watching at Haleakala National Park

Need another reason to visit Hawaii apart from spending days at the beach and lounging in the sand? What if we told you the Aloha State is home to a national park that provides one of the country’s best opportunities to witness varied marine wildlife? Maui’s Haleakala National Park is revered for its otherworldly terrain, but it’s in the surrounding waters that you’ll find whales and varied fish.  Plus from December to April, visitors chance a glimpse of seals and dolphins frolicking in the Pacific waters. 

Marine wildlife watching is a fantastic way to explore the coastal environments of America’s national parks. Don’t forget to review wildlife safety tips and practice Leave No Trace habits to preserve precious habitats wherever you go.

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