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How to Whale Watch Like a Pro

Fin whale heading right at passengers on the bow of Capt. Dave's catamaran

So you’re itching to throw on your sailor hat and trek out into the deep blue for a dose of some magnificent whale watching? Whale, that’s the best idea we’ve heard all day! For an adventure so grand, one so wise would never want to be caught ill-prepared for such an outing. Here at Captain Dave’s, we’ve compiled a list of tips, tricks, and suggestions that’ll be sure to make you feel like the most devoted and dapper dressed dolphin and whale watcher in the area. We’ve got advice that ranges from seasickness woes, what attire to sport up, what goodies to bring on-board, and loads of other crew worthy counsel for you to help you experience an absolutely unforgettable experience.

Let’s dive right in!


Nobody wants to imagine themselves as a pale or green-faced compadre, begging for the stability of land, and wishing they had never decided to go popeye on an afternoon at sea. We get it, there’s nothing quite worse than boarding a vessel to soon discover that your belly was not a fan of this decision. If you’re a passenger who is prone to seasickness or someone who just doesn’t enjoy the scene that was painted above, we highly recommend treating yourself to several of the seasickness remedies we have in mind. For example, Dramamine and Bonine work wonders for those who’d rather enjoy looking at the ocean and its wildlife, then sharing their lunch with it.

Got a quaint tyke with a sensy stomach? No problemo. Chewables are available in yummy flavors such as purple grape and raspberry. They won’t count for your fruit intake for the day, but they’ll count for something when that tummy gets a rumbling. And always stick with the non-drowsy option when picking out tablets. Although we all love a good snooze now and again, it’s better saved for the love-sack at home, then aboard an incredible whale watching safari. It’s also a good idea to take that tablet at least 30-60 minutes before take-off, as that’ll make sure that it’s ready Freddy to do its magic by the time you disembark.

More motion sickness options include pressure point wristbands which have reaped wonderful results for many of our loyal shipmates. Pop a wrist band or two on your snazzy wrists, and allow the powers of acupuncture vibes to ease the quease of a rocking ride out at sea. Plus you’ll be snazzing up a cute bracelet! For those granola babies, we also recommend natural remedies such as ginger-ale and ginger tablets which are an organic alternative to motion sickness, without the side effects. We know you’ll have a great time during your trip, but let’s make sure to take every precaution when it comes to those ill feels while at sea. We’re in the business of having a good time, and let’s be honest, the sickies don’t sit right with this sort of escapade.

What to Wear

What to wear, what to wear. The big question of life. You may be standing in front of your mirror like a bachelor before a big date, or looking at your spouse asking, “honey, is this too much?” but when it comes to whale watching, this question is quite legit. Although our trips take off out of Dana Point, a beach town in Southern California where the weather looks better than a puppy in a pink sweater, it’s always important to make sure you’re wearing the wisest attire for a whalemazing adventure.

For example, it’s usually 10-15 degrees cooler on the water, even when the SoCal sun is shining, so it’s a good idea to layer clothing. A sweater and jacket is a marvelous idea, and many of our friendly passengers sport up the “t-shirt, sweatshirt, and windbreaker” ensemble. That way if you’re going goldilocks on us, you can decide if it’s “too hot” or “too cold” and dress up or down until it’s “just right.”

We recommend tennis or deck shoes if possible – preferably with non-marking black soles to avoid painting skid marks with your cool kicks. Pop on that rain poncho if it’s looking to drizzle because even though Orange County weather is generally mild, like life, it can be unpredictable. A hat or visor is a swell idea too, but make sure to secure that top hat on nice and tight as the wind loves playing a swift game of “you loose it, you lose it.” Bottoms are great, and whether you choose to wear them above or below the knee, we definitely vote for wearing them. Depending on the weather, it may be best to go with pants, that way your legs don’t get too chilled. Ocean and weather conditions do change frequently, so it’s best to be prepared and layered. Plus, you’ll want to look prim, proper, and professional in those selfies with a pod of playful cetaceans.

Responsible Whale Watching

Dana Point, California is known as the Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World®, and with such a noble title, it does lead us land-living folks to get a little ancy about sailing out and seeing what all the fun is about. With so much excitement to be seen in our waters, one may forget to put thought into how to go about viewing these magnificent marine mammals. Anything from a paddleboard, a dingy, a high powered motor yacht, or a pool noodle can aid in getting you a view of our wonderful wildlife, but it’s important to be responsible when sharing space with our underwater pals.

At Captain Dave’s, we take pride in providing sustainable wildlife viewing aboard each and every one of our whale watching boats. In fact, we make sure to dedicate our space to solely that: wildlife viewing. You won’t be watching whales and dolphins from a fishing boat, and our captain and crew make sure to be wise regarding distance and proximity to the animals. We believe in being good stewards of the ocean and conscientious tour operators. We help others in our local community to do the same as they experience up-close and personal encounters with some of nature’s most breathtaking wild animals, without causing harm to them or their environment. We respect this earth and the beautiful creations upon it and hope that you will too. After all, we’re sharing this planet, so let’s be good to one another! Fishy friends included.

We also support whale and dolphin conservation through our disentanglement efforts. Nearly 1,000 dolphins and whales are estimated to die every day worldwide in fishing gear entanglement. Captain Dave founded and organized Orange County’s first whale rescue group. As part of a network of NOAA trained disentanglement teams he has been hands-on involved with multiple disentanglement efforts. To help raise awareness Capt. Dave authored the award-winning book, Lily A Gray Whale’s Odyssey. He continues to seek out innovative new ways to help entangled whales and dolphins.

What to Bring

In addition to your favorite ocean voyage get-up of warm layers and comfy kicks, we also recommend packing that goodie bag full of yummy snacks to accompany you during your whale watching trip. A picnic pack full of snacks, sandwiches, water, soda, and yes, even beer, wine and a cold cup of joe are welcome on board as well. We nominate them plastic cups to hold your liquids, as glass can make for a not so fun adventure when it meets the floor of the deck. As always, drink responsibly or walk the plank, matey!

If you’re running short on time, and that belly gets growling, don’t fret! Our Dolphin Deck has an assortment of goodies to grab and purchase such as a variety of snacks, ice cream, sandwiches, and beverages. It also has items such as sunglasses, sunscreen, cameras, film or memory cards, binoculars, caps, visors, and windbreakers too. We don’t recommend eating these things, but they’re definitely recommended as sidekicks during your adventure.

When is the Best Time to See Whales & Dolphins

When it comes to a whale watching tour in Dana Point, anytime is a good time! In fact, Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari spots a slew of snazzy sea specimens all throughout the year, and with trips going out daily, it’s really up to you! With a 95% success rating of seeing wildlife, your chances of catching a glimpse of animals in their natural habitat are quite grand. We highly recommend the earliest morning trip available, as ocean conditions are much calmer due to their being less wind at that time of day. A fin, fluke or spout on the horizon may be easier to spot thus enabling you to shout out your best, “Ahoy! There she blows!” But if you’re the type to pick your pillow over the early worm, then feel free to join us on a later trip during your visit. As we mentioned earlier, the sightings can be spectacular on just about every trip all throughout the year.

If you’re hoping to take a gander at a particular species of marine wildlife, then that’s a bit of a different story. A fan of our barnacle bejeweled buddies that are often referred to as gray whales? So are we! Make sure to join us between the months of November and May when the gray whales will be migrating through the area on their hefty travels to and from Baja, Mexico to their feeding grounds in Alaska.

If you’re in the mood to say hello to the largest most massive mammal on the planet, then plan to join us during the months of May through September when the blue whales will be snacking just right outside our harbor in the krill filled waters closeby. (Yep! The most massive mammal on the planet, friends. And Southern California plays host to the largest concentration of blue whales in the world!)

Humpback whales, fin whales, and minke whales can pop by to say hi anytime through the year, and you may also gaze at a pod of orcas, false killers whales and possibly a group of sperm whales! Pacific white-sided and Risso’s dolphins are often seen during the “winter” months in SoCal, and fortunately, we have the luxury of seeing long and short-beaked common dolphins all year long, in numbers of up to 5-10,000 strong. Don’t forget about bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, and nearly 50 different marine birds. Again, anytime is a good time to take a peek at our animal neighbors nearby.

Snacks, comfy sneakers, a cozy sweater, your hefty sunshades, and your ahoy matey attitude are all prepped and ready to go. You’re looking great and so are those sightings, so hop on board and join us for an absolutely unforgettable whale watching safari. We’re sure you’ll have an amazing time during your adventure, and we look forward to seeing you soon!