Whale watching is a great way of getting out on the water off the coast of Los Angeles and Orange County. It used to be primarily a fall and spring activity. However, in the last couple years, the number and variety of whales migrating closer to shore have grown, and some of those whales choose winter and summer as their preferred travel season. According to volunteers at the Aquarium of the Pacific, there have been Gray Whales, Sperm Whales, Humpback Whales, Blue Whales, Fin Whales, and Minke Whales sighted on their whale watching tours.
There have also been rare glimpses of Pygmy Sperm Whales, Pilot Whales, Killer Whales, False Killer Whales, Cuvier's Beaked Whales, and Stejnegers Beaked Whales in the San Pedro Channel off the SoCal coast.
I have personally had the good fortune to see blue whales, gray whales, fin whales, a minke whale, a humpback whale and even a pod of killer whales off the Southern California coast.
In between whale migrations, the whale watching excursions become dolphin and sea life tours, since half-a-dozen dolphin varieties, as well as sea lions and seals, can usually be found in our waters all year long.
Winter Whale Watching
Gray whales, the most prevalent of the species cleaving our waters, migrate 6,000 miles south every October from their feeding grounds in the Bering Strait to mate and calve in the warm lagoons of Baja, Mexico. Prime whale watching season is from January through April when the mamas return north with their young.
Gray whales get to be about 52 feet long and are a splotchy gray and white due to parasites that attach to them in the warm water and fall off again when they head north.
In recent years, pods of orcas, or killer whales, which usually migrate farther out to sea, have also been spotted on whale watching excursions in November and December.
Spring Whale Watching
April to June is relatively quiet on the whale watch front, but if you're lucky, you may find humpback whales playing in the neighborhood. These 40 to 50-foot baleen whales are a little smaller than the gray whales and can be recognized by their wavy fluke. If you're lucky enough to see a humpback whale, you might be in for a good show since they are one of the most acrobatic whales, happily breaching and slapping for an audience. Check for local whale spotting reports before scheduling a whale watching trip in the spring.
Summer Whale Watching
Beginning in 2007, sightings of the endangered North Pacific Blue Whales closer to shore have become more frequent. The blue whale is the largest mammal that ever lived, bigger than any dinosaur remains that have ever been found. They grow to 108 feet and weigh up to 190 tons (380,000 lbs.). According to marine biologists, the blue whales that migrate along the west coast have begun feeding on a variety of tiny krill that lives closer to the coast, possibly due to climate change, bringing these majestic creatures into public view about 5 mile off the coast during the summer months. Blue whales are a grey-blue color, with a long flat body and flat, U-shaped head with a prominent ridge to the blowhole.
Blue whales usually travel alone or in pairs.
The photo above is just a part of blue whale art of a blue whale peaking out of the water on a whale watching trip near the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Fin whales are the second largest mammal, reaching up to 88 feet long. Although endangered, their populations are spread out in many oceans and their migration patterns are not well understood, so you'll only sporadically catch them feeding off the Southern California coast, and it could be any season. The fin whale has a long narrow dark brownish-gray body with a distinctive dorsal fin. They tend to travel in groups of 6 to 10. Minke whales can also show up year round.
How to Spot a Whale
- The spout of mist that whales produce when they come up for air is usually visible from a pretty good distance and is likely to be the first sign of a whale, so keep your eyes peeled along the horizon for a column of mist hovering above the water.
- Look for flat patches on the water indicating that the whale is about to surface.
- Follow the birds. A group of birds diving for fish is a good indication that dolphins, sea lions or even whales are probably feeding there too.
More Whale Watching Tips
- Be sure to take your camera or a pair of binoculars for getting a close-up view of whales and other sea life, but use your naked eyes first for spotting signs of whales in the distance.
- Dress in layers, and dress warmly. Regardless of the season, it is cold out on the water. Even when it's really hot at the beach, it's cool out past the breakwater. In winter, dress like you're heading to the snow.
- Wear sunscreen
- If you tend to get motion sick, be sure to take your preferred remedy or use motion sickness patches or wristbands. It gets quite choppy stopping, starting and turning as you chase after whales or race with dolphins.
Buy Whale Watching Tickets
- Redondo Beach Whale Watching Tickets
- San Pedro Whale Watching Tickets
- Long Beach Whale Watching Tickets
- Aquarium of the Pacific Whale Watching Tickets with a marine biologist, departing from Long Beach.
- Newport Beach Whale Watching tickets
- Dana Point Whale Watching Tickets