What marine life could you see on a cruise?

Wednesday, 1 November 2023

Humpback whale tail breaching the sea

Cruising is an amazing way to see not only the most amazing ports and attractions but more of our world’s beautiful oceans, from the Greenland Cruises exploring the Arctic Sea to our World Cruises coasting everywhere from the South Pacific to the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic to the Caribbean Sea.

Across our world’s oceans and seas, there is some truly incredible marine life. And, when you’re enjoying a cruise holiday, you’ll be able to witness many breathtaking creatures either from the deck or your balcony or during a destination experience whilst in port.

In this article, we share the amazing marine life you’ll be able to see on an Ambassador cruise…


Whale watching is a bucket list item for many naturalists, and you’ll be pleased to know that you can see a wide range of whales on a cruise holiday. You can enjoy amazing whale sightings from the top deck or your balcony – this is why we always recommend our guests pack a pair of binoculars (and you’ll even get some included with our De Luxe Suites!)

READ MORE: How to make the most of your cabin onboard an Ambassador cruise

Found in every ocean in the world, we often catch sightings of majestic humpback whales whilst cruising, especially along the coastlines of destinations like Iceland. We’ve also seen plenty of blue whales, the largest animal on the planet, along the coastline of Iceland during our cruises. Both humpback and blue whales are stunning creatures, and seeing them can be a life-changing experience.

Of course, orcas, with their iconic black and white markings and heightened intelligence, are another amazing creature you can see on a cruise. Easily recognisable thanks to their distinct markings, these social and inquisitive creatures have a reputation for their keen intelligence and killer instincts. We’ve seen them in plenty of places, including along the coast of Norway, on some of our British Isles cruises and some of our Canada cruises.

We have also seen minke whales during our cruises. Often seen on their own or in pairs, minke whales are predominantly found in the North Pacific and North Atlantic. Between April and June of 2023, we saw a massive 96 minke whales from our Orca Cruises.

On our British Isles Cruise in August, we were lucky enough to see a range of animals, including a minke whale. Talking about the experience, one cruiser had this to say: “My wife and I have just returned from a cruise around the British Isles on Ambassador’s Ambience. Tony Chenery and Nina Herbert from ORCA were on board, and we had many enjoyable moments with them out on deck chatting and watching for Whales and Dolphins. We went out on a boat trip from Tobermory and were lucky enough to see a Minke Whale breaching just near the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse. This sighting really made our holiday.”

Whales you can see on a cruise:

  • Beluga Whale
  • Blue Whale
  • Fin Whale
  • Long-finned Pilot Whale
  • Humpback Whale
  • Minke Whale
  • Northern Bottlenose Whale
  • Orca
  • Sperm Whale

Short-beaked Common Dolphins


As well as whales, it can be common to see different species of dolphins whilst on a cruise, often playing in the wake of the ship as it drifts through the water! Dolphins are one of the world’s most beloved animals due to their fun nature and strong personalities.

We often see common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. Both long and slender with distinct beaks and curved, dark dorsal fins, these dolphins are energetic and active, often found flitting between the waves and playing with one another.

As well as more common varieties, we’ve seen some species of dolphins you may not have heard of before. One such species is the Risso’s dolphin. They are distinctive due to their white scarring across their bodies from other Risso’s dolphins and squids.

Dolphins you can see on a cruise:

  • Bottlenose Dolphin
  • Common Dolphin
  • Risso’s Dolphin
  • Striped Dolphin
  • White Beaked Dolphin

Atlantic Grey Seal at sunset

Other Marine Life

As well as a range of majestic whales and dolphins, there are some other wonderful marine animals you can see on cruises, including sharks, seals, turtles and more – we’ve even seen a Walrus on one of our 2024 cruises!

Something that can be really impressive to see in the wild are basking sharks, which are frequent visitors to UK seas and can be seen around the south coast and islands during the summer months. Easy to spot on a British Isles cruise thanks to their size and gentle motion, although these are sharks, they pose no danger to humans and instead feed on tiny zooplankton with their cavernous mouths.

You can also see playful seals, especially on a cruise around the UK. Including grey seals, harbour seals and harp seals, they can often be seen lazing on rocks or swimming playfully with one another through the surf close to shore.

On Mediterranean cruises, we also see warm water creatures, including loggerhead turtles. The most common turtle in the region, these gentle giants can grow to nearly a metre in length. Found in the open water or around the coast, the best time to see a loggerhead turtle is when they come up for air.

Other marine life you can see on a cruise:

  • Basking Shark
  • Grey Seal
  • Harbour Seal
  • Harp Seal
  • Loggerhead Turtle
  • Walrus

ORCA Ocean Conversationist and guests onboard an Ambassador Cruise

Cruise with the experts

For those who are passionate about sea creatures and cetaceans, our ORCA Cruises are the perfect opportunity to enjoy a cruise holiday and expand your marine life knowledge. We work closely with ORCA, a marine conversation charity based in the UK whose mission it is to provide long-term study and protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises and their habitats worldwide.

Together, we made the Ambassador & ORCA Pledge. As a part of this, two Ocean Conservationists will be joining us on board a range of sailings totalling over 500 days across 2023 and 2024. They’ll be onboard to collect scientific data (eliminating the need for them to charter a private vessel) and offer amazing talks and sightseeing information to all guests on board.

It would be an understatement to say that the Ocean Conservationists who join us onboard our ORCA Cruises are brilliant at what they do. From cruises to Iceland to North Africa cruises, they’ll be on the deck with their binoculars, ensuring no sighting goes unmissed, leading informative and exciting talks and sharing their unrivalled knowledge and passion with all who come onboard.

Below, you can see a summary of all the sightings recorded by ORCA onboard Ambience and Ambition between just April and June 2023.

Ambassador Cruise Sea Life Sightings Infographic

Don’t take our word for their brilliance, though; our guests love our partners at ORCA just as much: “We sailed on Ambition on Iceland’s Land of Ice and Fire, starting in Newcastle on Saturday, June 3rd, and were delighted to discover that ORCA was going to be part of the cruise. We always enjoy enrichment speakers on our cruises, and the possibility of learning more about whales and dolphins and potentially seeing a few was a major reason for picking this particular cruise.

“But I have to say that the impact of Jan and Joanna on our enjoyment of this cruise was outstanding, far exceeding our expectations, and literally added an extra dimension to our trip with a series of wonderful cetacean-watching sessions from the decks of the cruise ship, in addition to their excellent presentations. They were incredibly enthusiastic about cetaceans, had an obvious breadth and depth of knowledge about their subject, but most importantly, had the ability to engage and inspire a significant number of cruisers around them. They have to be amongst the friendliest and most approachable experts I have ever come across and always had time for the many people who wanted to ask questions and learn from them. They worked hard to pass along their knowledge in a way that we, as non-experts, would understand and presented a clear and compelling case for the importance of watching out for these magnificent creatures. But they were also as excited, if not more excited, than any of us when we saw whales and dolphins.”