Whale Watching Season

California whale watching season usually coincides with the gray whale migration, which lasts from late fall through spring. But in areas where blue whales and humpback whales migrate, whale watching is a year round activity.

Most migratory whale species follow a similar migration pattern. They spend the summer months in polar waters, where long days of constant sunshine lead to algal blooms and abundant krill and plankton. In the fall, they head south to warmer waters to mate or give birth.

California Gray Whale Migration

The annual gray whale migration causes quite a bit of excitement all along the California coast. Over 20,000 gray whales make this journey, and they are often easily spotted from land. There are festivals celebrating the event, as well as cruises, tours and exhibits.

Peak gray whale watching season lasts from December through April, though some whales can be seen as early as November and as late as May. In Northern California they are even sometimes seen during the summer months.

The whales begin their southern migration sometime in October, leaving the Bering Sea for the warmer waters of Baja California. It takes them 2-3 months to make the journey, and they can be spotted off the Northern California coast in November.

The northern migration begins in February and lasts through April. The whales, including mothers and calves, travel closer to the coast on the northbound journey, so this is usually the best time for whale watching from shore.

Blue Whale Migration

Blue whales aren't nearly as common as gray whales, but there's an estimated population of over 2,000 on the west coast. The blue whale migration follows a patten similar to the gray whale, but they don't seem to travel such long distances, or to travel as close to the shore.

Blue whales are typically seen along the Central California coast, from Bodega Bay and the Gulf of Farallones (off the San Francisco coast) south to the Monterey Bay area. They've also been sighted at the Channel Islands (near Santa Barbara) and at other locations in Southern California. Whale watching season for blue whales lasts from late spring to fall.

Humpback Whale Migration

Humpback whales are very acrobatic, putting on quite a show for whale watching cruises. The population along the California coast numbers about 800. Prime whale watching season for humpback whales is in the summer and fall, with the largest number of sightings along the Central California coast. They can sometimes be spotted from land, particularly around Big Sur.

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