January 6, 2013

They Call It Whale Watching


A few days after whale watching season kicked off, CycleGuy, BabyGirl and I embarked on our first whale watching experience. I chose to go with Flagship Cruises based on their relationship with the Birch Aquarium. If I’m going to look at whales, I want to do it with pros. And who’s more professional than a naturalist whose job is studying these giant creatures?

On the last Friday of 2012, we boarded a boat in the San Diego harbor for what would be a 3-hour trip. Notice I didn’t say tour! (hehe) It was a crisp, sunny morning when we took off, and our naturalist assured us we would see plenty of sealife. We settled in on the top deck, enjoying our 45-minute trip to get it of the bay and to the ocean.

It was such a clear morning we could see all the way to Coronado Island and the crimson top of the Hotel Del. Along the way out to the ocean, it was so clear we could see all of Point Loma and the lighthouse that sits at the tip of the bay.

As we cruised out to the ocean we saw a few dolphins frolicking alongside the boat. It was very fun to watch them jumping out of the water, seemingly along for the ride. It was about this time this crazy woman decided to sit down next to us.

The three of us were doing just fine on our little bench. BabyGirl got up and was standing at the railing looking down at the dolphins when this mother and her young daughter sat down next to me. This would have been just fine had this woman and her daughter not decided to (1) talk about how bumpy the ride was becoming and (2) sing random pop songs completely out of key. So, we ended up moving downstairs which was a great move because few people were down there and we ended up having a more comfortable ride. Also, when we did see whales we didn’t have to fight for rail space to see them.

Whale Watching Along California Coast

But if you’ve never gone “whale watching” you might think it’s like in the movies or videos where you boat out to the wide open expanse and these cute creatures come up to your boat and wave and splash and jump out of the water and put on a show for you. Nothing could be farther from the truth than that. Whale watching is more like whale glimpsing. It’s not that you don’t get to see these amazing giants, but you can’t get all that close to them.

Federal laws prohibit getting within 100 yards of a whale so an experienced captain is a must. You want someone who knows the waters and migration paths so when a whale is spotted you’re not zipping to and fro trying to see it. Of course, whales can get within 100 yards of you, and many do. However, this will depend on where you are and what time of the season it is because some whales are just more social than others. Also, a lot depends on the type of whales you’re spotting.

Along the California coastline you’ll mainly see Grey whales, although orcas, humpbacks, fin and blue whales have been spotted too. These Grey whales are beautiful cetaceans are the most prevalent along the California coast because this is their migration path from the North Sea down to Mexico. Grey whales do breach, but as with any whale you just never know when. Instead of looking for them to jump out of the water, when you go watching for them, you’re looking more for seeing part of them as they dive. And since they’re bottom-feeders, when they take their big sounding dive they’ll dive down about 100-feet for 3-5 minutes.

Before heading out to go whale watching I didn’t know a lot about what to expect. I knew we’d be quite a ways away from them unless they just happend to be swimming along or around us. But once we got a glimpse of the stream of water from the blowhole it was truly magical. You’re willing to stand and stare off into the horizon waiting to see what’s next.

Whale Watching in California

We saw 6 Grey whales on our trip. Even though we were at least 100 yards away (think, a full football field) you could easily see them. None of them breached or did anything like in the movies, but seeing the water-puff and watching them arch slightly out of the water was spectacular! When they come to the surface, even though you can’t see their entire body they leave what’s known as a footprint in the water. The water becomes very flat and calm where they are and you get a sense of how huge they are even though you only are seeing the front of their body as they exhale.

Whale Watching

In the above photo, CycleGuy was able to capture the fluke of the whale as it took its sounding dive. The sounding dive is the third of three dives the Grey whale takes. It’s in this dive that the back end of the whale will come out of the water. Seeing that huge fluke was jaw-dropping. Sure you know it’s coming because you see a big portion of the whale as it arches just before this big dive. But when you see that fluke above water you’re left speech-less. About all we could say was “WOW!”.

If you have the opportunity to go whale watching it’s something you should do at least once. We went on a calm day but the waves were still choppy and bumpy. I’d love to go again to see more and different whales. And it would be cool to see a whale breach. Until then, I’m so glad to have had this experience.

I’d love to hear from others who’ve gone whale watching. What did you see and what was your experience like?

CycleGuy and I purchased our own tickets to go whale watching. This is not a sponsored post and even though I don’t have to mention it, I am because I think you should know that not everything I do is paid for by someone else. I am not required to disclose this to comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.



Just Heather January 7, 2013 at 12:15 pm

We went whale watching over the summer, and it was just stunning! We were able to see whales pretty close up, and you’re right about that moment of magic when their tales comes out of the water. I’m so glad you got to experience it!

Sara January 9, 2013 at 7:45 am

Heather, thanks for visiting and commenting. I’m so glad you and your family got to experience whale watching too. It’s such a privilege to be able to share the world with our children and at the same time be a kid ourselves too. ~ Sara

Christine January 16, 2013 at 3:21 am

FunBobby and I saw whales in Hawaii when we were there in dec. We were on a snorkel/snuba trip do the whales were a bonus. I was very excited to see one breech about 5 times – very cool!!
My mom and sister and I also did a whale watching out of long beach – I enjoyed it, but it was very choppy and chilly, so you do need to be prepared – so we learned the tip that if you’re seasick – stay on the deck and look at the horizon to equalize your balance. It is a great time though and amazing to see even a glimpse of these amazing creatures.

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