By Michele E. Buttelman
Signal Staff Writer
Southern California is blessed with an amazing climate, stunning mountains and the beautiful and majestic Pacific Ocean. It should be no surprise that the throngs of people who inhabit the area are joined by resident pods of whales who live off-shore year-round.
Among the many areas where Southern Californians can enjoy whale watching, Dana Point is considered among the best. Dana Point even claims the crown as the “Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World” and the first Whale Heritage Site in the Americas.
In addition, a variety of marine species, not only whales, but dolphins, turtles, sharks and sea lions also call the waters around Dana Point home.
This spectacular show of sea life makes any day of the year the best time to go whale watching in Southern California.
To see a daily tally of ocean whale and dolphin sightings visitdolphinsafari.com/sightings-log.
The Santa Barbara channel is one of the most ecologically diverse hotspots on the West Coast. The nutrient rich waters are derived from the California current. Cold water from Alaska rushes past the coast and creates a bloom of life. Pair this with turbulent winds that bring the cold water from the depths to the surface and it creates a perfect oceanic feeding ground. Humpback whales, orcas and countless sea lions have been spotted here in just the past few weeks.
From late November through April, thousands of Pacific gray whales migrate through the Channel first heading south to the warm water lagoon s of Baja California. On their return in the spring many gray whales, especially mothers with newborn calves, hug Santa Barbara’s coastline heading to their eventual summer home in the Bering Strait off Alaska.
When visiting Santa Barbara during whale migration season enjoy the many leisurely trails along the scenic bluffs that also double as perfect vantage points to sit and watch for these magnificent creatures heading north.
Late spring through early fall, the Santa Barbara Channel offers regular sightings of humpback whales and the largest mammal on earth, the massive blue whale. You might also spot the shy minke whale, fin whale, Pacific white-sided dolphin, coastal bottlenose dolphin and other dolphins.
From Ventura to Newport
You can find whale watching tours along the entire coast of Southern California. For humpbacks, book your whale watching excursions May through November and for blue whales, the largest animal on Earth, plan a tour sometime between July and October.
Newport Landing is one the most popular whale watching destinations. See giant blue whales, finback whales, gray whales and many more in their natural habitat. One the largest marine protected parks in California lies just outside of Newport Bay and whales and dolphin of all types can be viewed as soon as you leave the bay.
What to Bring
When setting out on a whale watching excursion most tour operators recommend guests to dress in layers. Wear layers that can be taken off or put on, to accommodate the temperature since it fluctuates during trips.
Bring a windproof jacket, it can get cool out on the water and the breeze can cut through an ordinary sweater or light coat.
Guests should bring sunglasses, hats and sunscreen.
If you are prone to seasickness, pill medications or motion patches are recommended.
Be sure to bring a camera or your cell phone. Make sure you have extra batteries for your camera, or a portable power source for your cell phone. You don’t want to miss the most important photo of the tour because of equipment failure.
Bring binoculars to get a closer look at the different species of marine life on your cruise.
Bring a backpack with water and a few snacks. Many tour operators offer snacks and water on board, but it never hurts to have your own provisions.
Pack your patience as well. Not every tour will spot whales, but most professional whale watching tours are very knowledgeable on where the whales are most likely to hang out.
Rules of Whale Watching
Whale watching tours must abide by the Marine Mammal Protection Act passed in 1972. Marine mammals including whales, dolphins, porpoise, seals, sea lions and otters are covered under that protection act. Some are also covered under the Endangered Species Act.
Power boaters and paddlers must resist temptation to float alongside or otherwise interfere with whale migration. The Marine Mammal and Protection act defines minimum distances and harassment and the corresponding fines of up to $10,000. Boaters, including paddle boarders and kayakers, should not approach a whale within 300 feet (the length of a football field); cut across its path or make sudden speed or directional changes.