We 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.
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.
The 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.
At 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.
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 here the dolphins came, they were short-beaked common dolphins (delphinus delphis) which are known to be quite energetic.They 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.
Shortly 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.
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.
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.
With 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.And 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.
Then 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.
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.
On 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.
I was really fortunate that I didn’t get completely seasick on our voyage (unlike several other passengers, Ay Ay Ay).
We never get tired of the beautiful whales.