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      Humpback Whale Underwater Looking at Camera

      We See Whales All Year

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      Humpback whale, by staff photographer Craig DeWitt, during our whale watching safari.

      Why is Dana Point the best place to see whales?

      The waters off Dana Point, California, are home to one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world. As a result, Captain Dave’s whale watching eco-safaris view whales, dolphins, and other wildlife throughout the year. View slideshows below of the different whales we see!

      All images in the following slideshows were taken during our whale watching safaris.

      Big blue whale exhaling at the surface

      Blue Whale

       (Balaenoptera musculus)

      These magnificent animals have smooth skin, marked only by the remora fish that hitch a ride to feed off the krill that spills from their mouths. Their coloration is silver to light blue that can appear as brilliant azure under the water, with beautiful mottling that can be seen when up close.

      Blue whale exhaling at the surface with Dana Point in background

      Blue Whale

      When a Blue whale surfaces and exhales, the sound is unlike anything you’ve ever heard. As their breath is released at approximately 200 miles an hour and forced through blow holes that have a striking resemblance to our own noses, the water is vaporized, shooting into the air, sometimes as high as 30 feet. The sound seems to thunder, then echo.

      Blue whale tail flukes

      Blue Whale

      As their body glides through the water, it seems as if it never end. Then, as a bonus the tail, measuring between 12 and 15 feet wide will sometimes lift into the air, offering a magnificent display. The “oohs” and “aahs” abound.

      Juvenile blue whale spy-hop

      Blue Whale

      Captain Dave says, “Bigger than the dinosaurs, bigger than Elvis, the only thing bigger than a Blue Whale is God and you hear Him mentioned a lot when a Blue Whale is around… people are always saying, “Oh, my GOD!”

      Overhead view of blue whale from a drone

      Blue Whale

      The blue whale is, and always has been, the largest animal ever to exist on earth. This whale can grow to a length of 33m (110ft) and weigh 200 tons, about a ton per foot, but on the average it is much smaller.

      Pleated throat grooves of a blue whale

      Blue Whale

      The blue whale is called a “rorqual”, a Norwegian word for “furrow”, and refers to the 55 to 68 pleated grooves running from its chin to navel. The throat grooves, in addition to streamlining the shape of the whale, allow the throat area to expand tremendously during feeding, and can hold 1,000 tons or more of food and water when fully expanded.

      Blue whale, head on, coming directly towards camera

      Blue Whale

      By taking tons of water into its mouth and filtering out the krill with its long, black baleen plates, a blue whale can eat over four tons of krill a day.

      Blue Whales

      Blue whale watching in Southern California is typically May through October. We have seen blue whales as early as February and as late as November.

      Southern California has the largest concentration of blue whales of anywhere on earth!

      Gray whale jumping out of the water

      Gray Whale

      (Eschrichtius robustus)

      What are gray whales? In short, gray whales are 40 to 50-foot lice covered, barnacle encrusted, mud sucking, bottom feeders. And we love them! Every year gray whales make one of the longest migrations of any mammal.

      Gray whale with mouth open, baleen visible

      Gray Whale

      Gray whales are baleen whales that feed on small crustaceans call amphipods. But they don’t catch their food in the water column like blue whales. Instead, a gray whale dives to the bottom, rolls on its side, and scoops up mouthfuls of mud. The whale closes its mouth and pushes out the water and bottom sediment through baleen plates that hang from the whale’s upper jaw, leaving behind the amphipods to swallow.

      Baby Gray Whale surfacing

      Gray Whale

      The majority of gray whales spend the summer months feeding in the cold waters of the Bering and Chukchi seas, near Alaska. They have to eat as much as possible because in the fall gray whales will start their annual 12,000 mile round-trip migration to the warm lagoons of Baja, Mexico, to mate and give birth to calves.

      Gray whale entangled with metal frame around its head

      Gray Whale

      Throughout their migration gray whales face many challenges and hazards. These slow moving, gentle, animals are often fall prey to
      transient (Bigg’s) killer whales. According to N.O.A.A. up to 35% of gray whale calves may be eaten by orcas. The greatest threat caused by humans is fishing gear entanglment. Nearly 1,000 whales and dolphins around the world die every day because of entanglement.

      Book cover of Lily, A Gray Whale's Odyssey

      Gray Whale

      Captain Dave organized Orange County’s first whale disentanglement group in 2008 and has successfully disentangled several gray whales, including a whale named Lily, whose disentanglement made national headlines when she stranded herself inside Dana Point Harbor. Capt. Dave has authored the award winning book, “Lily, A Gray Whale’s Odyssey ”, a magnificent photographic journey of a gray whale’s migration.

      Gray Whale breaching with sailboat in the background

      Gray Whale

      During our Dana Point whale watching trips we often see gray whales within a mile or two of the shore. Gray whales use Dana Point’s headlands as a landmark on their annual journey. It’s not uncommon to find these 30 to 40 ton animals breaching or spy-hopping outside of Dana Point Harbor in their effort to take a look around and get their bearings. About 20,000 gray whales migrate past Dana Point every year.

      Gray whale right next to whale watching boat and passengers

      Gray Whale

      Every March, Dana Point celebrates the gray whale migration with the Festival of Whales. The Dana Point Festival of Whales began 43 years ago as an annual community event and now attracts nearly 100,000 visitors each year. Residents and visitors celebrate migrating gray whales and other marine wildlife with ocean-themed activities and presentations emphasizing education and environmental responsibility.

      Gray Whales

      Gray whale watching is usually December through early May. We occasionally see gray whales as early as November and as late as July.

      Overhead view of fin whale from a drone

      Fin Whale

      (Balaenoptera physalus)

      Fast and sleek, fin whales are the second largest whale after the blue whale, with adults measuring 70 to 80 feet. Sometimes called finback whales, they can weigh as much as 80 tons. Fin whales, like blue whales, are rorquals that have throat grooves which expand when feeding. Fin whales eat krill and schooling fish.

      Fin whale large dorsal fin

      Fin Whale

      Fin whale have unique asymmetrical coloring under their lower jaw, with gray or black on left side and white on the right. They have light gray, v-shaped “chevrons” behind their head and tall, curved dorsal fins.

      Fin whale at surface, chevron and lower jaw visible

      Fin Whale

      The fin whale is a fast swimmer leading to the nickname “greyhound of the sea”. It is able to swim in short bursts of up to 23 miles per hour. Thanks to its size and speed, the fin whale’s only non-human predators are killer whales.

      Fin whale, head on, coming towards camera

      Fin Whale

      Although fin whales rarely show their tail flukes and almost never jump out of the water (a behavior called breaching), they can be very friendly towards boats. Several individuals have seemingly enjoyed the company of our whale watching catamarans and will approach the boat, even looking at passengers in our Underwater Viewing Pods!

      Fin whale entangled in fishing gear

      Fin Whale

      Fin whales are considered an endangered species. While some fin whales are still hunted in other areas around the world, in the U.S. they face threats which include ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.

      Fin Whales

      We see fin whales on our whale watching trips year-round, January through December.

      Humpback whale jumping out of water in front of Ritz-Carlton hotel

      Humpback Whale

      (Megaptera novaeangliae)

      Humpback whales average 40 to 50 feet in length and are well known for putting on energetic shows with breaching, lobtailing, and fluking. These 25 to 40 ton animals are easily identifiable by their long pectoral flippers, which can reach lengths of up to 15 feet.

      Humpback whale peduncle throw

      Humpback Whale

      Humpback whales are mostly dark gray in color, with variable amounts of white on the ventral side of their pectoral flippers, belly, and tail flukes. The pattern of pigmentation on their flukes, along with the shape of the tail, provide scientists with a way to identify each individual humpback.

      Whale watchers within inches of humbpack whale

      Humpback Whale

      For many years humpback whales were only an occasional sighting on our whale watching safaris. That changed in the fall of 2014 when Orange County had its first known “resident” humpback whale. For 10 weeks “Brutus” made almost daily appearances, delighting our passengers and crew with playful antics.

      Humpback Whale

      Our whale watching trips encounter humpback whales throughout the year, January through December, with the spring and summer months being especially abundant.

      Back and dorsal fin of a minke whale

      Minke Whale

      (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

      At just 26 to 30 feet in length, minke whales are the smallest baleen whale seen on our whale watching trips. Minke whales have dark gray to black coloring on top, white coloring on the belly, and distinctive white bands around the middle of their pectoral flippers. Their dorsal fins are tall and curved.

      Head of minke whale with blow holes visible at surface

      Minke Whale

      Like their larger family members, minke whales are also rorquals with 50 to 70 ventral pleats that expand like a balloon when feeding. They eat by taking in large amounts of water and food (such as krill or small schooling fish), pushing the water back out through 230 to 360 cream colored baleen plates, and swallowing the food that has collected.

      Minke whale directing in front of whale watching passengers

      Minke Whale

      Minke whales are fast swimmers and don’t spend much time at the surface, so they can be a challenging whale to watch. Some individuals though can be outgoing and curious about boats. They will come over and swim close to the boat, which is called a “mugging”. Once in while they’ll jump out of the water (breaching)!

      Minke whale, head on, coming towards the camera

      Minke Whale

      Of all the rorquals in the world, minke whales are the most abundant. However, minke whales, many of which are pregnant females, are still hunted by some countries around the world including Japan, Iceland, and Norway.

      Minke Whales

      Minke whales are seen on our whale watching trips throughout the entire year, January through December.

      Killer whale mother and calf

      Killer Whale

      (Orcinus orca)

      Killer whales are instantly recognizable by their beautiful black and white coloring and tall dorsal fins (a male dorsal fin can reach up to 6 feet tall). Killer whales are actually members of the dolphin family, and have the distinction of being the largest dolphin in the world! They can reach lengths of 23 to 32 feet and weigh 4 to 9 tons depending on gender.

      Killer whales surface next to whale watching boat Manute'a at sunset

      Killer Whale

      Killer whales are apex predators and have been known to prey on animals as large as blue whales and as fierce as great white sharks. Despite that, there are no known instances of a wild killer whale harming a human.

      A killer whale at surface surround by birds

      Killer Whale

      There are 2 eco-types of killer whales that visit Southern California.  Transient (Bigg’s) killer whales are the most commonly seen. Transient killer whales feed on other marine mammals including gray whales, dolphins, and sea lions. We also get visits from rare Offshore killer whales, an eco-type that is one of the least understood. Offshore orca are thought to feed on fish including sharks.

      Killer whale spy-hopping

      Killer Whale

      A third population of rarely encountered killer whales, Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP), have been seen off Southern California, although these are not known to belong to an eco-type. Very little is known about the ETP killer whale population.

      Killer Whales

      Orcas are seen in the Dana Point area occasionally. They can be viewed at any time during the year, although most frequently we have seen them in the winter months.

      Pilot whale at the surface

      Short-finned Pilot Whale

      (Globicephala macrorhynchus)

      Pilot whales, like killer whales, are members of the dolphin family. They love to eat squid but they will consume fish too. They can dive down to 1,000 feet or more to catch prey. Pilot whales are large with adult males averaging around 18 to 20 feet in length and can weigh over 2,200 pounds. They’re second in size only to killer whales and highly intelligent.

      A pilot whale swims next to whale watching boat

      Pilot Whale

      Pilot whales are dark brown or dark gray in color with a gray saddle behind the dorsal fin. They have a bulbous head and almost no beak. According to N.O.A.A. there are an estimated 300 pilot whales off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington combined.

      Mother and newborn calf Pilot Whales

      Pilot Whale

      Pilot whales were once more common to Southern California, but disappeared from the area over 30 years ago, after an El Niño event caused the squid population to decrease. Scientists don’t know exactly why they’re not here anymore as there are plenty of squid now. About the time pilot whales left the area, Risso’s dolphins (who also eat squid) began appearing.

      Pilot Whales

      Pilot whales are a rare sighting off Southern California. They can be seen anytime during the year.

      False killer whale jumping out of water

      False Killer Whale

      (Pseudorca crassidens)

      False killer whales are actually a member of the dolphin family, just like orcas. They are dark gray/brown, with areas of light gray on their throat and chest. False Killer Whales can reach lengths of 15 to 20 feet and weigh about 1,500 pounds. They eat fish and cephalopods (like squid).

      False Killer Whale approaches GoPro underwater

      False Killer Whale

      In 2014 we had our first False Killer Whale sighting in nearly 10 years. During the encounter Captain Dave, who was in his own small inflatable boat, had 5 whales come over and surround him. Watch what happens when one curious whale approached within 4 inches of his GoPro!

      Blood in the water during False Killer Whale birth

      False Killer Whale

      In 2016 we had another breathtaking encounter with False Killer Whales. This time, a pregnant female came over to our whale watching catamaran, Manute’a, pushed against us, and gave birth to a calf! The pod surrounded the calf and spent the next 10 minutes taking turns pushing the calf to the surface while it learned how to swim. Watch the video.

      Pod of false killer whales at surface

      False Killer Whale

      False Killer Whales are outgoing animals and, like other dolphins, form strong social bonds. They’re usually seen in groups of 10 to 20, that are part of a much larger pod. False Killer Whales can be found with other large cetaceans such as bottlenose dolphins.

      False Killer Whales

      False Killer Whales are another rare sighting. These animals could be encountered at anytime, without warning, throughout the year.

      Sperm whale underwater, swimming under boat

      Sperm Whales

      (Physeter macrocephalus)

      Sperm whales can reach lengths of up to 59 feet and weigh up to 45 tons. They are the largest toothed whale in the world. Sperm whales can dive to depths over 3,300 feet and hold their breath for over an hour, making them the second deepest diving marine mammal after the Cuvier’s beaked whale. They have the largest brain of any known animal on Earth.

      Sperm whale tail

      Sperm Whales

      In 2014 a pod of over 60 sperm whales visited Dana Point, California. It was the first time our whale watching trips had seen sperm whales in decades. The whales were seen in about ten groups of about eight to twelve whales each, spread over two to three miles just three miles off the Dana Point Harbor.  The groups would surface for as much as 15 minutes at a time, occasionally approaching the boat to spy hop, roll, tail lob and fluke.

      Sperm Whales

      Sperm whales could be seen at any time during the year. They are usually found offshore in very deep water, therefore, sperm whale sightings during our whale watching trips are extremely rare and special!

      Year Round Whale Watching