San Diego Whale Watching Off to a Great Start

By Birch Aquarium naturalist Bekah Logan

Photo by Carol Rager visiting from Maupin, Oregon.

This is shaping up to be another fabulous San Diego whale watching season with Birch Aquarium and Flagship Cruises & Events. Calm seas and sunny days have been consistent, and wildlife sightings have been abundant. In the two weeks since the start of whale watching season in San Diego, cruises aboard Flagship’s Marietta have already seen over 100 gray whales!

From late December to mid-April, approximately 20,000 gray whales pass by San Diego each year en route their breeding spot in Baja California. While the whales are traveling slowly but steadily southward, daily whale watching cruises have witnessed some spectacular behaviors, from whales swimming right next to our boat to spectacular breaches! A breach is when a whale jumps almost completely up and out of the water and then flops back down, landing usually on their side or back.

Photo by Carol Rager visiting from Maupin, Oregon.

Typically, gray whales do not breach as often as other species of whales, so it is always such a pleasure when we get to it happen. Why do whales breach? Well, scientists are still figuring this out – it could be due to an itch from the barnacles or lice that live on the whales’ bodies, or maybe just for fun. Whatever the reason, it’s always a joy to witness a whale breach.

Not only have there been abundant whale sightings, we have also spotted many dolphins. Large pods of common dolphins have been seen feeding and riding the Marietta’s bow and wake. One trip also saw a large pod of Risso’s dolphins. A local favorite, we see Risso’s dolphins less often because they tend to be found in deeper waters farther offshore.

What will you see when you set foot aboard the boat? You never know what the ocean has in store for you, and now is truly a great time to venture out with us. Cruises depart twice daily at 9:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. from Flagship Cruises & Events at 990 North Harbor Drive in downtown San Diego.

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  • Mary Addington
    February 3, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    We have our grandchildren in Oceanside the week of April 6- 11. Would the whales be going back up the coast with calfs?

    Which cruise – morning or afternoon would you most likely see a whale?

  • h6johnson
    February 5, 2014 at 1:14 am

    Hi Mary: There’s a chance we might see see cow/calf pairs. We see them heading north around that time, which is close to the end of our season. Something else to keep in mind: on the northbound leg, gray whales are usually further out from the coast so our boats have to make longer trips offshore. Though we are still seeing grays, the numbers we see aren’t quite as high as earlier in the season. The good news is we start to see other species during that time, like the fin whales!

    And, there is no difference between AM and PM cruises in terms of whale sightings. Hope this helps!

  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego