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San Diego Whale Watching Conservation

San Diego Whale & Dolphin Watching
Blog & Photos

March 5th, 2010

Whales and Weather.

The last couple of weeks have been full of some of our best whale watching trips this season. Unfortunately, they have also been full of windy days we couldn’t get out on the water.

Looks like the weather will settle down again this week though. I can’t wait to get out on the water again.

We have been seeing large groups of northbound Gray Whales, sometimes as many as 8 in a group, lots of Common Dolphins and beautiful Risso’s Dolphins almost every trip. We have also had the occaisional sighting of Humpback whales and Fin whales. All in all, it is a wonderful time to be whale watching from San Diego!

Here are a bunch of my photos from the last couple of weeks:

February 16th, 2010

Blog Catch Up

It has been an amazing week. We have been so busy that I have been a bit lax on getting blog posts up. So here are a ton of photos from the last week.

We are seeing some northbound, as well as southbound, Gray Whales now.  The really interesting change in the area though is that more and more we are seeing Fin Whales, Risso’s Dolphins, and even Humpback Whales offshore. We have had some unbelievably amazing whale watching trips.

February 11th, 2010

Gray Whales and Dolphins Play

We had a terrific whale watching trip today!

I knew it was going to be good when we encountered about 20 Pacific White Sided Dolphins and then 3 Gray Whales right out of San Diego Bay.

Then it got even better when we found two more whales on our way down to the Coronado Islands. While we were watching these two, a few dolphins decided to come over and have a little fun with them. Soon the whales were rolling over on their sides and popping their heads above the water, obviously interacting with the dolphins. Way cool!!!

After a week of wet and windy weather, which kept us off the water, this week is sure turning out to be pretty wonderful.

January 31st, 2010

Down to the Coronados

Calm winds and sunny skies greeted us as we left San Diego on a morning whale watching adventure.

We took a quick look at a lone Gray Whale just off of Point Loma and then headed down towards the Coronado Islands. Lots of Common Dolphins along the way, and then 6 Gray Whales around the north island. We topped off the day with a beautiful look at a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins.

January 29th, 2010

Sunny Days

The last two days on the water have been some of the most beautiful we have had this season! Both days we found a group of about 30 Risso’s Dolphins and lots of Gray Whales.

January 24th, 2010

Risso’s Dolphins and Breaching Gray Whales!

After a week of strong winds and torrential rain, the weather finally settled enough to run trips today. It was still choppy out on the water today, but our passengers were hearty and the whales and wildlife were abundant!

This morning we found Gray Whales just about everywhere we looked and the Coronado Islands were full of Sea Lions, Pelicans, and Cormorants. The really cool part about this morning’s trip though, was finding a small pod of Risso’s Dolphins! This was only our second sighting of the season of these strange but beautiful animals.

This afternoon the wind picked up a bit more than forecasted and the water got fairly rough. We still had a great time with Pacific White Sided Dolphins and we found a pair of gorgeous Gray Whales down in the islands. To our astonishment one of them did a full breach, twice!! Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera up in time, but It will always be ingrained in my memory. That made the trip worth it for sure!

January 17th, 2010

Gray Whales everywhere and an amazing Dolphin and Sea Lion encounter

This morning we headed out into beautiful calm waters, although you could feel the approaching storm in the air and see the first indications of dark clouds offshore.

This created almost perfect conditions for spotting. And spot we did. We found a total of almost 12 Gray Whales. It seemed that everywhere we went there they were. We also had an amazing encounter with a pod of Pacific White Sided Dolphins and California Sea Lions (see video).

January 11th, 2010

Gray Whales, Gray Whales, and more Gray Whales!

The Gray Whale watching season has really kicked into high gear off of San Diego. Today we had two awesome tours.

This morning we encountered a total of about 5-6 Gray Whales, with one passing quite close to us, giving us a beautiful look at its fluke as it went down for a deep dive. Then this afternoon we found 7 Gray Whales hanging out just off the tip of the north Coronado Island. What a beautiful sight!

Oh, and don’t forget the dolphins and sea lions. On both trips we had some fantastic interactions with playful Pacific White Sided dolphins and California Sea Lions.

January 9th, 2010

Breaching Risso’s Dolphins and a gang of Gray Whales

We had a beautiful large ocean swell rolling in from the Northwest this afternoon as we left San Diego on another sunny morning. You really knew that you were on the ocean today.

After a bit of searching up and down the kelp beds I got a report from another whale watching boat that a group of Risso’s Dolphins had been spotted. It was out of our way, but I just couldn’t resist. This was the first sighting of Risso’s this season. It was definitely worth the extra distance! We had a wonderful encounter with about 15-20 of them. One of them breached almost 10 times!

Then we ran south to the North Coronado Island to check out Pelicans, Sea Lions, and to watch the swells crashing against the rocks.

On the way back north we were fortunate enough to spend some time with a group of 3 Gray Whales. Lots of flukes, as they traveled closely together. While we were waiting for the Grays to come up from a long dive we had another surprise today. A Minke Whale popped up right in front of us and gave us several great looks before we moved on with the Gray Whales again.

Another great whale watching tour. The run back home was all smiles!

January 8th, 2010

Baby Gray Whale and breaching Humpback Whale in the same day!

It was another gorgeous day in San Diego. As we headed out this morning I had a good feeling about today’s whale watching tour. Yet I had no idea how exciting the day would actually end up.

Right out of the harbor we were able to observe something that is truly special. A brand new baby Gray Whale traveling with its mother. The baby was so new that it still had fetal folds on its rostrum (see photo of the baby next to its mother). Usually the whales will calve down in Baja California, however, sometimes they don’t quite make it.

After leaving the beautiful pair of whales to their journey southward we headed out to find about 100 Common Dolphins feeding offshore. Soon they were darting all around the boat and playing in our wake.

What a great trip so far. How much better could it get? Well, I decided to go exploring a little bit to find out. This is one of the nice things about running the Western Explorer, we have about a 30 mile range (one way) and I like to use it. So, we ran south about 12 miles to a spot where I have been very lucky in the last couple of weeks.

As we approached the area I spotted a large blow in the distance. YES! Soon I realized that it was the same Humpback Whale from two days ago. We watched it for about 20 minutes as it cruised along with the occasional longer dive. Then after a very long dive (10 minutes) we were getting ready to leave when we spotted its flukes again. So we decided to get one more look. And look we did as the next surfacing was a full breach with a 180 degree twist!!! And then another, and then huge lunges with streams of krill (see photo), which it must have been feeding on,  coming from both sides of its mouth. Obviously, this was a happy whales!

Another unbelievable day!

January 7th, 2010

Dolphin Mega Pod (1000+) and Gray Whale Watching off San Diego

Another beautiful San Diego morning found us heading out of the harbor on to the calm swells of the Pacific Ocean.

One of our passengers, Jessica, had never seen a Gray Whale before. Well, beginners luck was with us. As soon as we cleared the last marker I spotted a blow, and then another. Soon we were observing these beautiful animals on their southbound migration.

Then, onward we went to the Coronado Islands to check out Sea Lions, Pelicans, Oyster Catchers, and the stunning scenery. We had a bit of extra time so I decided to head offshore to see what we could find. And find we did! As we headed towards the Coronado Canyon we started noticing some splashing in the distance. Soon we were surrounded by Common Dolphins as far as the eye could see, some of them leaping out of the water 8-10 feet into the air! Amazing!!! There had to be well over 1000 of them.

On the way home we spotted another Gray (possibly one from earlier) which showed its flukes for us twice. A perfect end to a perfect trip.

January 6th, 2010

Whale Watching with Friends

OK, what do whale watching captains and naturalists do on a day off? Well, if we can, we usually get out on the water and go whale watching.

Today I was fortunate enough to have Captain Pete, Captain Nancy, Captain Nan, Captain Steve (actually not a whale watching captain, but married to Nan who is a captain and a naturalist.), and Naturalist Sarah. Five captains and one crew!

So, we headed offshore about 15 miles and went exploring. I was anxious to get out to where Fin Whales are sometimes seen and back down to the bank where I found the ETP Killer Whales a couple of weeks ago.

After 2 hours of running and scanning our patience and persistence paid off. We caught a quick glimpse of a Fin Whale right in the same area that I had the Killer Whales. Then we waited. Fin Whales can stay down quite a while. After 12 minutes we saw a blow. But as we headed over we noticed that it was not the Fin Whale. It was a Humpback Whale!! We hung out with this beautiful animal for almost 45 minutes, at which point the whale made a deep dive and I decided it was time to move on and began putting away my camera. Then just as I was getting ready to turn the boat towards the Coronado Islands the water exploded about 100 yards away from us as the 35-40 ft. whale launched itself into a full breach!! Absolutely amazing! Fortunately, Steve had his camera ready.

It was a fine day to be out on the water with friends!

January 4th, 2010

Hundreds of Dolphins and Whales in the Kelp.

It was beautiful calm morning out on the water. We headed out of San Diego harbor to explore.

On the way down to the Coronado Islands we encountered about 20 Pacific White Sided Dolphins and then about 100 Common Dolphins. What an amazing sight! The islands were stunning today with lots of California Sea Lions basking in the sun and frolicking along the shore. After a couple of hours of searching it was starting to look like we might not see any whales today. Then I got a report of a possible sighting off of Point Loma. We headed that direction, hopeful. We spotted a beautiful Gray Whale calf, slowly meandering along the kelp line. Shortly afterwards another boat found a large adult whale just a bit to the north (maybe the calf’s mother). It was a perfect ending to a gorgeous trip!

December 30th, 2009

Gray Whales off of San Diego

We had two fantastic trips today!

On the morning whale watching tour we were lucky enough to encounter 2 different Gray Whales and a pair of Fin Whales. In the afternoon, there seemed to be Gray Whales everywhere you looked! We also encountered lots of playful Pacific White Sided dolphins and California Sea Lions. Both of these are some of my favorite animals to encounter because they truly seem to be curious about us and will often come right over to the boat to check us out.

We also visited the Coronado Islands on both trips to observe a sea lion rookery with a few Elephant Seals mixed in, looking mammoth even compared to the 400 lb sea lions.

December 25th, 2009

Holiday Whale Watching in San Diego

Happy Holidays!

Spent a wonderful morning opening presents with the family and then went out on the boat this afternoon with a really nice couple visiting from Indiana.

It was a beautiful afternoon on the water. We spent a lot of time searching today, but it really paid off. We spotted 2 Minke Whales, lots of California Sea Lions, and played with some Pacific White Sided Dolphins. And, then on our way home, watching a beautiful sunset, we were treated to a Gray Whale sighting!


December 21st, 2009

A truly special start to the San Diego whale watching season!

Today Sarah and I took the Western Explorer out to, well, explore a bit.

It was a beautiful winter day, just a bit overcast, yet warm, with just a gentle swell rolling beneath us as we headed offshore.

Soon we found a lone little Minke whale (beautiful animals, but very elusive). Then we encountered a large male Elephant seal bobbing in the water, catching his breath after what was probably a very long dive (they can stay down over an hour at a time). Then on to the Coronado Islands we went, encountering playful Common and Pacific White Sided Dolphins along the way. The islands, as always, were magnificent in their jagged beauty.

Still no Gray Whales or Fin Whales (both of which we were hoping to find), so I decided to head further offshore to search. Then I noticed a tall dark shape in the distance. Could it be? No…., Maybe….. Yes, Orca Whales!! Soon we were surrounded by about 20 Orca Whales, including 3 adult males. After a few minutes of observation it became clear that these were Offshores (fish feeding) as opposed to Transients (mammal feeding).  Orca whales are extremely rare near San Diego. It was such a magnificent find that we ended up staying out with them for over 2.5 hours until another whale watching boat, the “America” showed up.

Here is a little update. It turns out that these whales are actually classified as Eastern Tropical Pacific Orca whales, which makes the sighting all that much rarer. A researcher I spoke with says one of them was last seen in the Gulf of California in 2006.

November 2nd, 2009

Getting geared up in San Diego for winter whale watching.

Well, it is all starting to come together.

I trailered the “Western Explorer” down here from San Juan Island last month and it looks like she now has a new winter home in San Diego. Beginning in December (until the end of March), I will be running her out of H&M Landing in Point Loma. I am very excited to be operating from H&M Landing, which has been a pioneer in offering whale watching trips from San Diego. They are located close to the mouth of San Diego Bay, which puts us closer to the Coronado Islands. They operate smaller boats (relatively speaking) than the big companies like Hornblower and San Diego Harbor Excursions, which makes their tours and the landing itself much more personal. However, the Western Explorer sure is different from what most people are used to around here and I am sure my little orange boat will be met with some apprehension until people get to know us. The Western Explorer style of whale watching adventure isn’t for everyone, and that is one of the reasons why I think H&M Landing is such a good fit for us. Our high speed adventure tours will be one of several options for people looking to go whale watching. Whatever you are looking for in a whale watching trip you are sure to find it at H&M Landing. The landing also happens to be located next to my favorite fish market in San Diego, Point Loma Seafoods.

I have been getting out on the boat from time to time to explore a bit on my own as well. I will post some photos soon from some of the amazing encounters I have had.

Hope to see you aboard the Western Explorer this winter!

Ivan Reiff