Whales, Whale Watching in Dana Point, Orange County
We See Whales All Year Long!
Our whale watching safaris in Dana Point, California, see whales and dolphins throughout the year. Dana Point has one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world! Scroll down for more detailed information about the different whales plus photos and videos. Visit our dolphin and whale watching sightings log to see most recent and past dolphin and whale sightings.
While whale watching in Dana Point, California, we see Gray Whales between December and mid-May on their annual migration between Alaska and the lagoons of Baja. In the months between May and October (sometimes November) we see magnificent Blue Whales. And year round we see huge Fin Whales and Minke Whales. Occasionally, we get a special visit from Killer Whales, Humpback Whales, False Killer Whales, Pilot Whales, Bryde’s Whales, and Sperm Whales.
Join our Dolphin Safari Adventures!
Daily, year round, dolphin and whale watching aboard a high-tech catamaran sailboat with Eye to Eye Underwater Viewing Pods to feel what it’s like to swim with dolphins, a research hydrophone to hear the animals underwater, and much more.
Online dolphin and whale watching reservations or (949) 488-2828.
Blue Whales (Balaenoptera musculus)
In our opinion, Blue Whales are absolutely beautiful and breathtaking. These magnificent animals have smooth skin, marked only by the remo fish that hitch a ride to feed off the krill that spills from their mouths. The coloration is blue to light blue in a beautiful mottling that can be seen when up close. 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. 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. 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!”
Southern California has the largest concentration of blue whales of anywhere on earth!
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. The Blue whale is called a “rorqual” a Norwegian word for “furrow” and refers to the pleated grooves running from its chin to its 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. By taking tons of water into its mouth and filtering out the fish or krill with its baleen plates a medium-sized Blue whale can eat over four tons of krill a day.
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. Learn more about blue whales.
Watch some of our favorite Blue Whale videos, taken during our regular whale watching trips.
Gray Whales (Eschrichtius robustus)
Gray whales make one of the longest migrations of any mammal and are seen every winter off Orange County. The whales travel 10,000 to 12,000 miles from the Chukchi and Bering Seas to the lagoons of Baja, California, where they mate and have their calves.
Whale watchers see gray whales off Dana Point from December through early May. They are often spotted within just a mile or so of the shoreline, and they use Dana Point’s headlands as a landmark on their journey, making gray whales a popular whale to watch. In early March, Dana Point Harbor celebrates the annual Festival of Whales with ocean-themed events and activities that have an emphasis on education and environmental responsibility. About 20,000 gray whales migrate past Dana Point every year, with the 2013-2014 season being our best ever with more sightings than any prior season.
Throughout their migration gray whales face many challenges and hazards, one of which takes the lives of nearly 1,000 whales and dolphins every day. Scientists estimate that 308,000 dolphins and whales die because of fishing gear entanglement every year worldwide. 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 watching is usually December through early May. We occasionally see gray whales as early as November and as late as June. Learn more about gray whales.
Watch some of our favorite Gray Whale videos, taken during our regular whale watching trips.
Fin Whales & Minke Whales
Fin whales are the second largest baleen whale, after the blue whale, with adults measuring 70 to 80 feet. They have unique asymmetrical coloring under their lower jaw with gray or black on left side and white on the right. The fin whale is a fast swimmer leading to the nickname “greyhound of the sea”. We see fin whales on our whale watching trips January through December.
At 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 with a tall, curved, dorsal fin. They are sometimes mistaken for a large dolphin. Minke whales are still hunted by some countries around the world including Japan, Iceland, and Norway. Minke whales are seen on our whale watching trips throughout the year.
Humpback Whales (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. Prior to 2014 we didn’t see humpback whales on our whale watching trips very frequently. That changed in the fall of 2014 when Orange County had its first known “resident” humpback whale. For ten weeks Gooseneck (also known as Brutus) made nearly daily appearances during our whale watching trips!
Gregg Hoesterey and his daughter Morgan Hoesterey took this incredible footage of our vessel “Manute’a” during one of our Dolphin and Watching Whale Safaris. It turned into a phenomenal whale watching experience… thanks for making this beautiful video Morgan!
Killer Whales or Orca (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 a member of the dolphin family and are the largest dolphin in the world! They are apex predators and have been known to kill 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. Killer whales are seen in the Dana Point area occasionally. They can be seen at any time though most frequently they appear in the winter months.
Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus)
In June of 2014 a huge 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 can reach lengths of up to 59 feet and weigh up to 45 tons. They are the largest toothed whale and may be here feeding on giant Humboldt squid. Pods like those seen today are made up of mostly of adult females and sub-adult males. Female adult sperm whales usually roam away from the main group. Sperm whales can dive to depths over 3,300 feet, making them the second deepest diving marine mammal after the Cuvier’s beaked whale. Sperm whales can hold their breath for over an hour. They have the largest brain of any known animal on Earth.
Sperm whales might be seen at any time during the year. They are usually in much deeper water therefore sperm whale sightings during our whale watching trips are extremely rare and special!
Short-finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus)
In 2014 Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari had two separate and very rare encounters with pilot whales. Rare because pilot whales disappeared from the Dana Point area about 30 years ago after an El Nino 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, Risso’s dolphins began appearing.
Pilot whales, like killer whales, are a member 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 are highly intelligent. According to N.O.A.A. there are an estimated 300 pilot whales off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington combined. They feed primarily on squid and can dive down to 1,000 feet or more to catch prey. Pilot whales can be seen anytime during the year.
False Killer Whales or Pseudo Orca (Pseudorca crassidens)
Another rare animal that can be seen at any time! In March 2014 Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari had their first false killer whale sighting in nearly a decade. False killer whales are actually a member of the dolphin family, just like killer whales. They can reach lengths of 15 to 20 feet and weigh about 1,500 pounds. They are outgoing and can be found with other cetaceans such as bottlenose dolphins.
During the 2014 encounter Captain Dave, who was out in his own small inflatable boat near his whale watching boat, had five false killer whales come over and surround him. He put his GoPro in the water and one curious whale came up about four inches from his camera and examined it. Check out the remarkable video below!