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A Guide To Whale Watching In Southern California

The winter months are ideal for whale sightings as these massive mammals make their 7,000 mile journey from Alaska to Baja, California by way of our Pacific waters. The warm waters to the South are ideal for mating, birthing, and growing in preparation for the long journey back to cooler Alaskan waters. We're right in the midst of their migration and large numbers of gray, fin, and minke whales have been spotted right off our coast. With record numbers of whales being spotted up and down the coast, now is the ideal time to embark on a whale watching adventure.

Before heading out on there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. No matter how warm or mild the temperature is on the day of your excursion, dress warmly. It can get chilly and breezy once you're out at sea.

2. If you're prone to motion sickness, be sure to pack a remedy. Typical excursions can go out as far as 7 miles and conditions can be unpredictable.

3. Consider bringing an SLR camera or video taping segments of the trip. The boat and the whales are in motion and their sightings can be quite brief. Combine that with guidelines that require boats to be a certain distance away from the whales and you'll need a high speed camera with excellent zoom capabilities.

So where can you go to view these magnificent mammals?

(credit: Caryn Bailey)

Harbor Breeze Cruises
100 Aquarium Way
Long Beach, CA 90802
(562) 432-4900
Through the end of April, visitors can take a 2 to 2 1/2 hour boat ride where the possibility of seeing gray whales, dolphins, sea lions, and other marine life. The Christopher, which is the designated ship for whale watching, offers stadium seating at the front or bow of the ship. This is the ideal location to watch for marine life all around the vicinity. A member of the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific offers informative commentary. Tours depart daily.

(credit: Caryn Bailey)

Dana Whatf Sportfishing & Whale Watching
34675 Street of the Golden Lantern
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 496-5794
Dana Point serves as a landmark for whales en route to Baja Mexico. Each 2 hour cruise is narrated by an expert captain who will provide education on coastal ocean life including dolphins, whales, harbor seals, and the California sea lion. Tours depart three times a day throughout the season. Be sure to check their site for weekly updates on whale sightings.

(credit: Caryn Bailey)

Newport Landing Whale Watching
309 Palm St
Newport Beach, CA 92661
(949) 675-0551
With over 20 years experience, the staff can locate whales and dolphins easily along the coast and offer full narration during the cruise. The ship offers unobstructed views and the three-hour trip operates twice a day. School field trips are also offered.

(credit: Caryn Bailey)

Davey's Locker Whale Watching & Sportfishing  
400 Main St
Newport Beach, CA 92661
(949) 673-1434
Los Angeles and Orange County are one of the few locations in the world that offer year-round whale sightings. Davey's Locker has been providing daily whale watching cruises for 30 years and prides itself on having a ship that was designed for viewing marine life and a crew with backgrounds in marine biology and knowledge of marine life, their environment and ecosystems. Additionally, class field trips and private rentals for group excursions can be arranged.

(credit: Caryn Bailey)

Capt. Dave's Dolpin Safari
24440 Dana Point Harbor Dr
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 488-2828
Owned and operated by marine naturalist, filmmaker, photographer and columnist Dave Anderson, this tour offers the best whale watching in the world from the vantage point of high-speed Catamaran which offers underwater viewing. The trips are smaller in size than most, capping at 49 passengers. Should you require a more personalized and intimate experience, private charters are also available.

(credit: Caryn Bailey)

Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
3720 Stephen M White Dr
San Pedro, CA 90731
(310) 548-7562
As a leader in marine science education, aquaculture research and community recreation, the aquarium enlists trained whalewatch volunteers to lead a 2-3 hour whale watching trip. A Complete Whalewatch includes a slide show about the Pacific gray whale at the aquarium, followed by a two hour voyage in search of whales and other marine life. The aquarium also offers a unique nine-day ocean voyage called Friendly Whales of Baja which includes a 3-day stay in the San Ignacio Lagoon and visits to Todos Santos Island, San Benito, Cedros and San Martin Islands. Experienced naturalists give onboard presentations and lead excursions such as onshore hikes.

Caryn Bailey is a writer in Orange County who blogs at Rockin' Mama.

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