Next time you plan a trip to southern California think about planning a whale watching trip. We have one of the best spots in the world to offer – the Santa Barbara Channel. Truly, I’m not kidding. Not to mention its actually a marine sanctuary. Year round there is a possibility of seeing whales – all kinds. Gray Whales, Humpback Whales, Blue Whales and about 25 other species of whales and dolphins have been identified within the waters of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
My favorite are the humpbacks, they tend to visit during the summer, especially June through September. They can be playful and engage with the boats that go out to look for them. The grays are on a mission when they pass through the sanctuary, traveling from Alaska to Mexico to their breeding ground, there is little time to stop, this happens around December/January. Then on the way back up the females travel with their calves and that takes place around the months of March, April, May. This is when you can and will see gray whales from the beach. When they travel north the moms tend to keep the young close to the shore, especially when they get a little further north, around Monterrey. This is because the Orca’s are known to lay in wait and prey on the calves. Orca’s need depth to attempt an attack and staying in shallow waters close to the shore gives the grays and their young some relative safety.
Sitting on the beach in Malibu one year around May, I saw no less that 15 gray whales pass by me during that day – it was like a super highway of whales. Just beyond the break point were the spouts from their blowholes. It was amazing, such a sight to see.
I have yet to see Orca’s on these trips – they tend to make random visits, usually in the winter months. The transient killer whales making a stop in our channel, looking for something good to eat. I have tracked them over the years, once they arrive on our shores I try to guess if they will head north or south during their visit – and then waking up and trying to make the decision if I head south to Captain Daves (www.dolphinsafari.com) or head north to www.islandpackers.com or www.condorexpress.com for a full day out at sea.
All the whale watching boats are excellent. Captain Dave’s is a little further than I like to drive – its a good two hours away, but if its a nice calm day and they have had some good whale sightings I will head down. The nice thing about their boat is its a catamaran and the hull of each pontoon has underwater viewing windows that you can climb down into and see the whales and dolphins underwater. They literally have to drag me out of there when I go down – its captivating and I never want to leave.
Island Packers is the closet for me – in Ventura and probably the one boat I go out on most. Condor Express is a bit further north in Santa Babara and I will head up there if the Orca’s have been sighted going north.
I highly recommend dressing for winter – even in summer. As I stand on the dock and prepare to board I look around at the pour tourists in their flip flops, shorts and t-shirts and know that its too late to warn them of the impending cold. This is what I normally take on any trip, does not matter what time of the year. Always jeans, a polartec top and a waterproof shell. Then I pack in a bag with the following: a down jacket that can be worn under the shell, a beanie, gloves, a scarf, sunglasses, a wide brimmed hat, a cooler with snacks and beverages, binoculars, my cameras/lenses, an arm to attach my iPhone to so I can get video from different angles, a seat cushion (you’re on this boat ALL day on a plastic seat!) and lastly a thin polartec blanket. You may snicker at this list, but you will be grateful to be so prepared. At the very least if there is no wind and it gets warm (usually on the way back, in the summer) you can use all that clothing for resting your head on when you take a nap in the sunshine.
It has never done me wrong!
Below are some more of my photographs from numerous trips.