Whale Watching Season is in Full Swing

By whale watching naturalist, Nick Williams. 

The gray whale season this year has been wonderful so far! We have seen a whopping 454 Gray Whales! Whale watchers have just started to see these gentle giants begin their northward journey. Among these sightings, we have been lucky enough to see some calves that were born before the mothers could reach the lagoons off of Baja California, and of course the sightings of lively breaches are always favorites for novice and veteran whale watchers alike!

Gray Whales are not the only creatures spotted during our excursions. Dolphins frequently come investigate and play around the boat. Nearly 11000 common dolphins and just over 1300 Pacific white-sided dolphins have been spotted so far this season, adding to the excitement of the trips.

While Gray Whales and dolphins are regular winter and spring sightings in San Diego’s coastal waters, whale watchers have had the good fortune to see a few special animals this season. Risso’s dolphins are large members of the dolphin family are spotted infrequently due to their preference for deep, offshore waters. They have a base coloration of gray, but this is often masked by white scarring covering their bodies that is caused both by their prey of choice (squid), and by other Risso’s dolphins. Their rounded heads occasionally cause them to be mistaken for pilot whales.

We were also fortunate enough to spot a pod of Pilot Whales — a  rare site for us. These large members of the dolphin family and appear dark gray or nearly black in coloration with a lighter gray saddle patch behind their dorsal fins. Like the Risso’s Dolphins, Pilot Whales typically inhabit offshore waters so they can hunt squid, but will move inshore when their prey are spawning. They have some of the strongest social bonds of cetaceans, which is why pilot whales will often make headlines for mass strandings.

With the season only part way done, there are still many more opportunities to see Gray Whales and other amazing animals off the San Diego coastline. We hope to see you out on the water!

Birch Aquarium is celebrating more than a decade of partnership Flagship Cruises & Events. Learn more about our twice-daily whale watching cruises here.

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego