Unknown to many, San Diego is an ideal destination to view dolphins and whales in their natural habitat, the ocean, as San Diego has 70 miles (112 kilometers) of coastline directly in the migration path of the whales.
Every year from October onwards, more than 20,000 gray whales make a 10,000 mile (16,093) round-trip journey from Alaska to the lagoons of Baja California, where the females give birth to their calves and spend time in the warm California waters before making their way home again in the spring.
Therefore, don’t miss the chance to view them up close if you happen to be on a vacation in San Diego. Read on for more information on a whale and dolphin watching tour!
Bonus view of sea lions
There are lots of sightseeing and tour operators in San Diego that offer a variety of dolphin and whale watching excursions. Joining such an excursion is the best way to see these graceful and majestic animals, as they tend to stay further out in the sea. Not just that, a dolphin and whale watching boat excursion allows you to see San Diego’s beautiful skyline from a distance on the waters, and you get bonus views of sea lions and migratory birds if you are lucky!
I joined a 3-hour whale-watching tour by San Diego Whale Watch, which included narration by a certified marine biologist. Other providers include Hornblower Cruises and Flagship Cruises. Just as my boat departed from the port, I saw sea lions sunning themselves and frolicking in the waters, what a great way to start a tour!
Graceful common dolphins diving in and out of the waters
As this is a boat tour to view dolphins and whales in their natural habitat, there are no guaranteed sightings; the first hour of my tour was spent peering down in the waters trying to spot movements and hopefully a dolphin or two.
It was only when we headed to the deeper part of the waters in the Pacific Ocean that dolphins were suddenly spotted. Distinguished by the colourful crisscross pattern on their sides, the common dolphins are playful and friendly, some of which might swim very close to the boat.
Keep a lookout for their outlines, which could be clearly seen if they swim directly beneath the boat. Over the course of 2 hours, about 100 common dolphins can be spotted. See their graceful outlines in the following video.
Bottlenose dolphins spotted
As you get deeper into the waters, your chances of spotting the bottlenose dolphins are higher. These marine creatures are characterised by their light to slate grey colour and a lighter coloured belly to help camouflage them while hunting. The dorsal fins are also different from those of the common dolphins, as they are more curved back.
But because dolphins move so fast at up to 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour), it is extremely hard to capture pictures of them, so definitely come prepared with your camera in picture or video-taking mode all the time or you will easily miss them. As our boat was about to make the trip back, I was fortunate enough to spot a blue whale, the biggest mammal and possibly the largest animal on earth, from afar.
Eat a motion-sickness pill before boarding
Don’t ever underestimate the choppiness of the waters and do eat a motion sickness pill before you go onboard. The waters get quite rough once you are out in the ocean and even though I’ve never had much of an issue with seasickness before, I still threw up halfway when I was onboard.
It is also extremely bright out in the ocean, so remember to slather on sunscreen and wear a cap. As these dolphins and whales are out in the wild, don’t go with the expectation that you will definitely see them as it is still very much dependent on luck. However, it is best to go on a whale watching tour between mid-December to April or mid-June to September, as there are higher chances of seeing whales then.
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