Whale Watching in California
Whale Facts

Humpback Whale Fluke   Photo: J. Waite/NOAA

Looking for a great place to go whale watching? California offers numerous opportunities for you to see whales, both from shore and at sea. And you'll find whales of one sort or another year round. Whale watching cruises are offered all along the California coast. Add in California's gorgeous coastal scenery and the abundance of other types of wildlife, and you've got a winning combination.





There are several species of whales commonly seen along the California coast. Check out these whale facts and whale pictures so you'll know what to look for before you go whale watching.


Whale Watching
California Gray Whale Facts

Gray Whale  Photo © Ryan Harvey / flickr.com

By far the most common whale you'll see is the gray whale, which migrates every fall from its summer feeding grounds off the coast of Alaska to its breeding grounds in the lagoons of Baja California.

Gray whales are not migrating as far north or as far south as they once did. They don't need to go so far to find food. In fact, they may even become "resident" to areas where the waters are particularly nutrient rich. And the good news is that the population of gray whales has been increasing steadily and is now at about 23,000.

Gray whale watching season lasts from winter through early spring. The southern migration starts in November and lasts until about February. The northern migration starts in February and lasts through April. Spring is the best time to see the whales, since mothers (cows) with calves tend to hug the coast - keeping their calves coast-side, presumably to protect them from killer whales (Orcas).

The gray whale is a medium sized whale, measuring 45 feet long and weighing 50 tons at maturity. You'll be able to spot it easily from shore with its V shaped blow, up to 15 feet high. In fact, since gray whales often travel in large groups, you may see a line of blow plumes - like some gigantic water fountain.

What do they look like? Check out these gray whale pictures, and even more gray whale pictures.

However, gray whales are not the only species you can see, not by any means.


Whale Watching California
Blue Whale Facts

Blue Whale Fluke  Photo: Josh Kaye-Carr, Channel Islands Naturalist Corps

Blue whales are huge! They're the largest animal on earth at 70 to 90 feet long and weighing over 100 tons. They're fast, strong swimmers and big eaters, devouring around 4 tons of krill a day. Blue whales are an endangered species. There are only about 10,000 worldwide with 2,200 of those off the California coast.

The best places to spot blue whales are around the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco, around Big Sur and the Monterey Bay area, and around the Channel Islands near Santa Barbara. Blue whale watching season lasts from late spring to fall.

You'll get some idea of what these massive creatures are like from these blue whale photos, and these blue whale pictures.


Whale Watching California
Humpback Whale Facts

Humpback Whale Photo: Barbara LaCorte/Linda Flegal, Channel Islands Naturalist Corps

Humpback whales reach a length of 40 to 50 feet. The population of humpback whales along the California coast is about 800. They're very animated whales and can often be seen leaping out of the water, slapping the water with their fins and flukes, and even swimming on their backs with both fins in the air. In short, they're fun to watch.

Humpback whales spend most of the year close to shore or around islands, and since they're also somewhat slow swimmers who rest frequently, your chances of seeing them on a whale watching cruise are pretty good. Humpback whale watching season lasts from summer to fall.

You'll get a pretty good idea of just how acrobatic these whales are from these humpback whale pictures, and more humpback whale pictures.


Whale Watching
California Whales, Dolphins, and Seals

Pacific White-Sided Dolphins  Photo: Michael Richlen/NOAA

You may be able to see several other species of whales along the California coast, including the black and white Orcas (killer whales), Minke whales, Fin whales and others.

In addition, you may see dolphins and porpoises, and (of course) the ubiquitous seals and sea lions. Common species include Pacific bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Pacific white sided dolphin, Risso's dolphin, Dall Porpoise, and Northern right whale dolphin.

You'll also find California sea lions, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, Northern elephant seals, and the delightful California sea otters. If you fail to find seals along the California coast, you're just not looking!


Whale Watching California
Fast Facts

Gray Whales

  • Migrate from November through May
  • Travel in large groups
  • Blow is up to 14 feet high and V shaped
  • Raise their flukes (tails) before diving
  • Medium sized whales - 45 feet long weighing 50 tons

Blue Whales

  • Migrate from July through October
  • Travel in pairs, sometimes singly or in small groups
  • Blow is a single stream rising up to 30 feet high
  • Raise their flukes before diving
  • Huge animals measuring 70 - 90 feet long weighing over 100 tons
  • Makes very loud deep rumbling sounds that travel long distances through water

Humpback Whales

  • Migrate from November through March
  • Travel in groups of 7-10
  • Blow is up to 10 feet in a balloon shaped pattern.
  • Raise their flukes when diving
  • Reach a length of 40 - 50 feet, weighing 25 - 40 tons
  • Easily identified by its long pectoral fins
  • Very acrobatic
  • "Sing" long complex "songs," for hours at a time


More California Whale Watching Information

Whale Watching in California | California Whale Watching Cruises 

Whale Watching on Land | California Whale Watching Festivals


Return to Best California Beach home page from Whale Watching California Style