Whale Watching California - Your Central California Guide to Whales

Here is your guide to Whale watching California... Since we normally see only the surface of the world's oceans, it is always fascinating to us when some of its many creatures rise up out of the depths and make themselves seen. Whale watching in Central California, from the deck of a ship or from the land, is available most of the year.



Gray whale spyhopping

This photo shows a gray whale "spyhopping" where they hold their head above the water. Many species of whale perform this interesting maneuver when they want to see what is going on at the surface.

Whale watching California - There are plenty of opportunities for whale watching in Central California and for seeing several different types of whales and dolphins nearly year-round.

There are three main species of whales that frequent the California Central Coast: Gray whales; Blue whales and Humpback whales.

Additionally, Killer whales (orcas) are often seen in Monterey Bay as the gray whales pass through in the spring.


If you would like to read a bit more in depth about whales off the coast of Central California, and about marine life in general, I highly recommend this new website - "Seasons in the Sea". It is a work in progress, but enables you to explore by month, by habitat or by species. Check it out, you'll enjoy it!


All whale-watching cruises along the California central coast reported large numbers of both blue whales and humpback whales last summer (2012). This was a rare opportunity to see these magnificent creatures. The winds and currents brought in large amounts of krill, the small shrimp-like favorite food of these whales, close to shore.

A humpback whale in Avila Bay

Photo by "Mike" Michael L. Baird - link to original

The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) which is responsible for the laws and regulations pertaining to marine mammals has reminded all who might like to view a whale up this close that doing so is not really safe and may constitute harassment. It may be "cool" to be able to claim you touched one in the wild, but the fines may not be so memorable. The NOAA says to stay at least 100 yards away and not cross its path ahead.


It's one thing to see videos or documentaries of great animals such as whale and quite another to be able to view them and actually interact with them in person in the wild. That's an amazing experience and one that is readily available in Central California.

Whale Watching California - Gray Whales

The most numerous and most commonly seen whale along the central coast are the gray whales. They stay fairly close to the coastline and often can be seen from shore.

The gray whales pass by here twice each year on their annual migration from their breeding and calving grounds in Mexico to their feeding grounds in the Bering Sea off Alaska. Their migration is perhaps the longest of any mammalian species with a round trip of 10,000 to 14,000 miles!

Gray whales reach lengths of 45-50 feet and weigh 30-40 tons.

Populations have recently been estimated at 20,000 individuals and early reports for 2012 by watchers here along the coast show a good calving season.

Gray whales eat small crustaceans and tube worms found in bottom sediment.

When are the whales in California?
Dec - Feb Mar - May Jun - Aug Sep - Nov
Gray Whales Dec - Feb heading
south to mate; Feb begin
heading north
Heading north to feed
through mid-April
Bering Sea Bering Sea
Blue Whales Warmer waters Warmer waters California California
Humpback Whales Warmer waters Arrives April California California
Size comparison of a blue whale, a dolphin and a human diver

The above graphic shows the comparable sizes of the largest animal ever - the blue whale - a human diver and a small dolphin

Whale Watching California - The Blue Whale

Blue whale are less common along the California coast than grays, but are regularly seen.

They are from 75-100 feet long and weigh 100 to 150 tons.

Whale Watching California - The Humpback Whale

Humpback whales are famous for their "singing" and amazingly complex songs.

They are in the same family as blue whales, but are smaller - 40-50 feet long and weighing up to 40 tons.

A humpback whale jumping and completely out of the water

Whale Watching California - How and Where to see whales

A whale watching excursion is a wonderful activity while journeying in Central California and there is no other way to get as close. I'll cover the places where boats regularly depart for whale watching tours, but first I'll mention where you might be able to see whales without voyaging over the waters.

On their journeys between the Bering Sea and Mexico, gray whales are usually within a few miles of the coastline. There are also places where they will come even closer.

Best places for land based whale observations:

A blue whale tail off the Central California coast

A blue whale's tail off the Central California coast. Photo by Michael L. "Mike" Baird - Link to original

Whale Watching California - Boat Tours

Whale watching boat tours leave Central California from three locations: Avila Beach, Morro Bay and Monterey Bay.

Some of these operators only provide whale watching during the off-season for sport fishing. Others provide tours year-round.

What you might see on a whale watching tour - Blue Whale
  • Avila Beach
    • Patriot Sportfishing 805/595-7200
  • Morro Bay
    • SubSea Tours 805/772-9463
    • Virg's Landing 805/772-1222
  • Monterey Bay
    • Monterey Bay Whale Watch 831/375-4658
    • Randy's Fishing Trips 800/251-7440 831/372-7440
    • Princess Monterey Whale Watching Cruises 800/200-2203 831/372-2203
    • Sanctuary Cruises Moss Landing 831/917-1042

How to prepare for a whale watching boat trip

  • Dress in layers - it may be hot on land but can get quite cold on the water
  • Rubber soled shoes - you're on the water, the deck will get wet and slipping is no fun
  • Sunscreen - the water reflects the sun's rays and can intensify it. Cloudy days can even be worse. UV passes through clouds
  • Make sure your camera and/or binoculars have straps and you use them
  • Batteries and memory for your camera
  • Motion sickness remedies if you are susceptible

For more whale watching, 'down under' this time, visit Brisbane Walkabout.


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An overhead view of a blue whale
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