Whale Watching in San Diego

Whale Watching in San Diego 1Whales SD  059We were so excited to have yet another opportunity to see whales.  This time of year gray whales can be spotted off the coast of San Diego as they migrate north from Baja California.  The migration starts in November when the whales head south from Arctic waters and continues through the spring when they head back up north.  This up to 14,000 mile journey is one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal.  Eschrichtius robustus is robust indeed. So we researched options for whale watching in San Diego and found multiple two-hour to half-day tours as well as one eight-hour option on Pacific Nature Tours.

Whales SD  054Whales SD  057


It’s challenging to get an up close look at migrating whales since they are a moving target and at times far off shore.  So in order to have a better chance at an up close and personal look we selected the eight-hour tour.  And happily we found a Groupon discount which made it a great deal as well.

Whales SD  055

Whales SD  062Whales SD  106Whales SD  084The eight-hour tour also crossed the border into the Coronado Islands in Mexico.  We were really looking forward to that portion of the trip since the Coronado Islands are known for their diversity of bird life as well as seals including the awesome elephant seals.

Whales SD  104Whales SD  080Whales SD  058Whales SD  076At one point we heard that the boat was no longer sailing into Mexico because the Mexican government was now requiring a permit.  But when we called to book our tour, the company assured us that they were still going to the Coronado Islands.

The day before we left I noticed that there was a high surf warning for San Diego that was to extend to the following morning.

The morning of our whale watching tour the weather was beautiful and we got off to a great start as we sailed by some sea lions and lots of birds just off the pier.

Whales SD  101But I can be susceptible to sea sickness at times so I’d taken some seasick pills.

Once out in the ocean we did encounter frequent swells, so I made sure to do three things that always help:  I didn’t go inside the cabin, didn’t go up to the upper deck, and kept my eyes on the horizon rather than the swells. I even avoided drinking too much water to avoid going to the head as much as possible.

And it mostly helped, but you might notice that I have a slight green tinge in several of the photos 🙁Whales SD  097

Whales SD  110Whales SD  001Soon after departing the naturalist announced that they’d spotted a school of dolphins.  His announcement went something like “prepare for attack”.

And here the dolphins came, they were short-beaked common dolphins (delphinus delphis) which are known to be quite energetic.Whales SD  070Whales SD  083They also gather in schools up to hundreds or even thousands, and this school definitely seemed to have hundreds.  They love to ride in the bow of boats, thus the “attack”. Although we’ve seen many dolphins in Florida, we’d never seen a school this large or this active.  These guys were really entertaining and fun.

Whales SD  002Whales SD  074

Whales SD  073Shortly thereafter, the crew spotted a fin whale.  They are the second largest marine mammal after the blue whales, but they are also the fastest, referred to as “the greyhound of the seas”.  So they are quite difficult to keep up with.  But we did see her blow and part of her long back as she surfaced a couple of times.

Whales SD  100Although we stuck around for a bit to try to see her again, she did not cooperate.  But the crew spotted a gray whale and motored over to get a closer look.Whales SD  063


There were a couple of gray whales, and we got pretty close, but they were traveling pretty fast so we ultimately lost them.  Then, we spotted another one and got a pretty close look at her.  But the crew announced that if we were to make it to the Coronado Islands we had to move along and so we did.Whales SD  099

The Coronado Islands looked really wild and pretty and everyone was excited as we approached them. Then a Mexican Navy boat began to motor toward us.  Everything stopped for a moment and the crew became quite alert.

Whales SD  081Whales SD  079With the help of a translator the crew figured out that they were asking to board to confirm that we had a permit.  Although our guy stated that we were not there to fish, the Navy guy responded that if we were to remain in the area we needed a permit.  And I must say that he was very polite and nice.  But unfortunately, we had to leave.Whales SD  075And that crew member said this hadn’t happened before, but later another crew member said they couldn’t figure out how to get the permit, so the whole thing was confusing.

Whales SD  109

Whales SD  093Then we sailed back to the area where we’d last spotted gray whales and there she was; a gray whale breaching.  It’s always so exciting to see those massive animals breaching.  And we were rewarded with another breach.  This was the reward for missing the Coronado Islands.

Whales SD  092Whales SD  093Whales SD  094Whales SD  095


Adult Grey whales measure around 45 – 50 feet long and weigh between 30 an 40 tons.   Pretty awesome how something this large can hurl itself out of the water into the air.

Whales SD  087Whales SD  088Whales SD  089Whales SD  090

Whales SD  108Whales SD  067Whales SD  069On the way back to San Diego, we spotted another enormous school of dolphins.  There were moms with babies and all of them were frolicking and jumping.  They were so much fun!  Everyone was just hypnotized watching them frolic.Whales SD  107Whales SD  082

Whales SD  102In the late afternoon the swells died down and I began to feel much better.

I was really fortunate that I didn’t get completely seasick on our voyage   (unlike several other passengers, Ay Ay Ay).

Whales SD  060Whales SD  098So all around our whale watching adventure was fun and interesting. And we saw one type of whale and schools of dolphins that we’d never seen before.

We never get tired of the beautiful whales.

~ BrendaWhales SD  072

3 thoughts on “Whale Watching in San Diego

  1. Great pics and commentary. So many Dolphins and B I R D S!!!!!!! So nice to be able to comment and compliment again! Thanks.

  2. Hey! Where the ribbon of road at the top of the Blob. You didn’t take Island Girl out to watch the whates, did you??

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *