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Are There Orcas in California?

An orca (killer whale) jumping high out of the water off the coast of Dana Point, California

While most people with whale watching aspirations might expect to see orcas while whale watching in the Pacific Northwest, it can be a surprise to learn that California orcas exist too! It can be dazzling to see whales and dolphins in the wild and some of the sea’s superstars are the killer whales so many people have come to know and love. The largest and most widespread of the dolphin species, orcas are found in coastal areas of oceans worldwide, and if you’ve been wondering, “Are there orcas in California?” you’ll that answer is a resounding yes. Although orcas have leaped into the public consciousness and into being fan favorites through film and amusement parks, the amazing abilities orcas have in the wild are incomparable and worth far beyond the trivial amusement they’ve been associated with. Beautiful apex predators of the sea, orcas live in matrilineal groups and hunt down their prey much like wolves on land do. Playful, powerful, and intelligent, they’ve got the winning combination of skills to have become the top of the crop when it comes to marine mammals. When local wildlife finds itself face to face with orcas the captivating cetaceans spring to the forefront of many minds who may be craving a taste of wild ocean adventure.

Are orca sightings possible in Southern California?

Yes! Dana Point occasionally plays host to the black and white beauties, and although these incredible apex predators are found in other parts of California semi-regularly, they are rare here! These amazing animals tend not to linger here in the Dolphin and Whale Capital of the World® but they have been known to take multiple trips up and down the coast when they are in the area. It’s a one-of-a-kind type trip to see them swimming wild and free.

Part of the magic of seeing California orcas is the exceptionality of the sightings and the distinction of the type that visited. Killer whales are differentiated by different habitats, appearances, behaviors, diets, and ways of communication called ecotypes, which make them as diverse and varied as human cultures. Sightings of these orcas give us opportunities to see many different types of orca pods.

In terms of California orcas, the most commonly spotted killer whales in the Golden State are transients, also known as Bigg’s killer whales, resident killer whales, and the offshore killer whales.

A group that has made news for traveling the California coastline in various interspersed intervals of time is made up of Eastern Tropical Pacific orcas or ETPs for short. Previously their visits to Southern California have been rather brief with a fairly large amount of time in between travels up to our more northerly location. We’ve had years between sightings of ETPs in California, but even so, there are still opportunities to see these killer whales. California orca sightings are not impossible!

Typically living off of more southerly water of Mexico or Central America, Eastern Tropical Pacific killer whales have been known to take trips north as a family, hunting the marine mammals they seem to favor along the way.

With marine scientists estimating that close to a million dolphins of varying species potentially live off the coast in Southern California, Dana Point is an ideal place for a mammal-hunting predator to visit and the perfect place for whale watchers to spot rare sightings such as these California orcas. If the exceptional is what you’re looking for, and your burning question is are there orcas in California, a visit from killer whales is sure to bring it all your way in spades!

Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari brings you into the open wild of the ocean to view a variety of whales and dolphins. There’s no exaggeration in saying that the water off Dana Point, the Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World® is one of the most uniquely biodiverse areas for finding marine life! Passengers from all over the world join us to capture the unique and exciting moments of seeing whales and dolphins in the wild. When you’re planning a Southern California adventure, don’t forget to book at least one day in Dana Point, where the marine wildlife sightings are at their best!

Are there opportunities for once-in-a-lifetime whale watching experiences with orcas?

Yes! Knowing orca sightings off the coasts of Southern California are possible makes a trip out with us that much more exhilarating! At any point on any one of our trips, something amazing could happen, and it’s truly fantastic to be there when it does. Take a look at our 5-star reviews and some of the incredible moments our passengers have had. Whether it’s seeing dolphins underwater in our underwater viewing pods aboard Manute’a or seeing a humpback whale breach feet in front of you on our fast and close-to-the-action adventure zodiac-style trips, you won’t forget the animals you see or the memories you make!

No matter which vessel you choose to go out in, you’re sure to have an incredible chance to see some of the stellar sea animals in our area. Imagine seeing California orcas on a zodiac, catamaran, or even our six-person motor yacht called “ORCA”. Talk about a lucky coincidence! Between joining us for a public trip or your next private charter, the opportunities, and styles in which to see the wonderful wildlife on the water are fantastically varied. Dana Point whale watching brings you within view of the absolutely rich marine life of the area. Are there orcas in California? Are there other animal sightings? From sea lions to sharks, mola molas and turtles, sea birds, and the ever-popular whales and dolphins, there is so much to see out on the water on your safari.

An orca (killer whale) next to whale watching catamaran "DolphinSafari" in Dana Point, California

Dana Point, California is an enticing and unique place for both locals and tourists alike to see wildlife in the beautiful coastal Pacific water. With a 95% success rating of seeing wildlife and the impressive title of being the First Whale Heritage Site in the Americas certified by the World Cetacean Society, it’s no surprise this is a fantastic place to see dolphins, whales, and other oceanic wildlife species. We’re lucky to see some wildlife regulars and other whale and dolphin visitors we see all year long include humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, Risso’s dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and common dolphins, so booking with us is more than likely to give you a glimpse of something seriously cool. Maybe among the regulars, you’ll see something rare, like California orcas. Even so, rare sightings are up to chance, so like any luck of the draw, the more chances, or in this case trips, you take the odds are increased that you’ll see something simply spectacular. Dana Point should be at the top of your list whether you are a whale watching enthusiast looking to find the best spot to see whales, a SoCal native looking to spot orcas in the area, or a first-timer looking to see what the ocean has to offer.

An orca (killer whale) swimming next to our Dana Point whale watching catamaran

What does Dana Point have to offer?

One trip isn’t enough to see the entirety of the ocean, and likely you’ll need more than one day on the water in Dana Point to get a chance to see California orcas. No day is ever the same and although we can take guesses of what we expect to see, it’s still a beautiful mystery to uncover. Since we are in the wild viewing wild animals in their natural environment, there’s no way to know what adventures are in store for us. Whale watching seems to be as much fun for the marine mammals as it is for passengers onboard. Both dolphins and whales will approach our boats to get a clearer view and there’s honestly nothing like being eye to eye with a dolphin and knowing it’s looking back. Amid large pods, you can even hear them calling to each other from the front of the bow!

We’ve seen orcas hunting, playing, relaxing, and nursing their young all from our boats, and these incredible moments happen with other animals as well. Getting up close and personal with amazing marine life without inhibiting their natural behavior is only one of the reasons the best whale watching is found in Orange County.

Dana Point whales are drawn in by ocean waters full of the food that various marine species consume and the plenty they all can enjoy keeps wildlife healthy and in high spirits. It’s exactly that healthy population of marine life drawing the orcas into our area and only time will tell if they were here recently to establish a new hunting ground and truly be Southern California orcas or if it was just a long hunting vacation visit. Are there orcas in California that will stick around to become regulars in the Dana Point area? We don’t have the answers to that yet, but regardless of what kind of visitor, human or orca, travelers can view the true natural beauty of the ocean, and its shores are on full display here. There’s plenty to see and do in the area!

If you’re interested in exploring more of Dana Point after your trip, get a snack or souvenir at our Dolphin Deck, check out the tidepools by the Ocean Institute, or take a stroll along the harbor and keep a lookout for any animals that might be in the shallower water. There’s something about orcas that seems to spark a sense of adventure seeking, so if you’re up for a walk, you can hike around the Dana Point Headlands to the ‘Pirate Sea Cave’ and live your own explorer’s dream. If hiking isn’t your jam, enjoy an overlook of the ocean at sunset and check out Strands Beach which has a beautiful elevated view of the sea and has stairs down to the beach. Did we mention this hidden gem has free parking?

Whale watching passenger gets up close with an orca (killer whale) near Dana Point, California

Don’t forget that with us you can customize your trip to fit whatever sense of adventure you’d like, so your trip doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. You can take a fast and zippy Zodiac Safari close to the water to frolic with dolphins or relax in upscale comfort, high and dry in luxury and eco-friendly style on our power catamaran. Fancy relaxing on a harbor cruise? Want to spend a whole day looking for those California orcas? We can make it happen! Our highly regarded captains and crew always make sure their experience at sea and extensive knowledge of marine life come with friendliness and excitement. Whatever it is you end up seeing, you’ll know we all share a genuine passion for the sea and the life within it.

What’s the best way to go out looking for orcas?

If you are interested in having your private whale watching safari, spending a day out on the water with Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari on a private charter is not only the best way to get outside and enjoy the open air, but it is also the opportunity to be able to see wildlife with just your family, friends, or co-workers and make long-lasting lifetime memories without the pressure of meeting new people. Then again, it can be fun to see some new faces, and we love seeing guests return as well as greeting visitors from all over the world on our public trips. Whichever way you decide to join us, you’re sure to enjoy all the perks of being out in nature and seeing what Dana Point, the Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World® has in store for you.

If you’re still asking yourself are there orcas in California and are only interested in seeing California orcas there are places that will give you a great chance. If you don’t want to miss seeing them, we recommend visiting the Channel Islands. There’s also the opportunity to spot some orcas around Monterey Bay in April in May. Or if you’re up for traveling further up the coast, venture up north to Point Reyes or even further to MacKerricher State Park. If you’re willing to forgo California orca sightings, try visiting the Pacific Northwest off the coasts of Oregon and Washington, or even Alaska to view some of the resident population of orcas there.

While sightings of these magnificent mammals are considered rare in Orange County, seeing orcas in California does happen! If luck is with you, your day will be nothing short of spectacular! We’re sure you’ll have an amazing adventure no matter what you see. A normal day offers more wildlife to see than you can even imagine, so what are you waiting for? The only way to see marine life is to get out there on the water with it, so book with us today and get ready to have a spectacular time!

Until Next Time,

Jenn Ortiz