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San Diego Whale Watching Season Starts December 13th

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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Baby Gray Whale in San Diego Bay and Gray Whale Migration Route

(Video link courtesy of CBS 8 News and reporter Marcella Lee from Jan. 27,2014) A very small and young gray whale has been stuck in the San Diego Bay since January 26th, and according to CBS News 8,  Hornblower Captains and SDNHM Whalers’ daily sightings, the calf is still in San Diego Bay. With the knowledge that a gray whale calf usually nurses for about 7 months, and stays with their mother for up to 9 months, there is definitely a growing concern about the fate of the whale. Everyone hopes this gray whale calf, who is only about 2 weeks old, will find his way back to the migration path.

During the Fall Migration, the pregnant female gray whales take the lead on the southern migration, in a hurry to reach the warm birthing and nursery lagoons. Soon to follow are the males and other adult females. Juveniles, of course join this incredible journey, but some often don’t ever reach Mexico before turning around and heading back north.

Eventually the Northward (Spring) Migration occur. This is usually from January – June. During this migration route, the adult male gray whales and juveniles are the first to head north. The newly pregnant female gray whales, mothers and babies stay in the lagoons a month or two longer than the others so that the babies can gain blubber and strength before making the long journey back north to Alaska.

San Diego Whale Watching Report for January 24 – January 29


Morning Cruise

Afternoon Cruise



3 gray whales

3 gray whales, 1 gray whale calf

AM: 3 gray whales, all adults

PM: Several people asked about the stray gray whale calf that had been seen in the Bay. At the very end of the cruise, when we were already headed for the dock, Captain Bill got a radio message that the calf had been spotted off North Island. He turned around, and we did see the calf, which looked really small. No blow, just sticking its head out a few times, and showing its back.

That was exciting, but many people were concerned whether someone would “rescue” and feed the calf.


7 gray whales, 20 common dolphin, 6 pacific white sided dolphin

7 gray whales, 1 bottlenose dolphin

AM: We followed 3 very active gray whales for some time.  They were slapping, spy hopping, and breached twice!  Also saw 2 rolling around, possibly courtship.  Pacific white-sided dolphins in amongst the whales. Several breaches this morning!

PM: Followed a pod of 5-6 traveling together, heading south – fluking and spouting in sequence.  Saw one rolling at the surface. Awesome!


2 gray whales

3 gray whales

AM: We followed 2 gray whales for most of the trip. A lot of head splashing, fluking, and spy hopping.

PM: We had the opportunity to see 1 gray whale breach up close, which all the guest got to see. Amazing trip!


5 gray whales, 200 common dolphin, 2 pacific white sided dolphin, sea lions

Single gray whale

AM: Hazy weather, calm seas. We saw 2 adult gray whales going south. Flukes and snorkeling. 200 common dolphin and 2 pacific white sides were seen. Occasional sea lions and one swimming with a grey whale. Good passenger patronage.

PM: 3 separate gray whale sightings, all heading south–2 juvenile, 1 adult. Snorkeling, one fluke. Lots of boating activity and a low flying hydroplane making the whales cautious. One reported sighting of a juvenile in the bay as we were heading toward the dock.


11 gray whales

4 gray whales, some pacific bottlenose dolphin

AM: Another fabulous day out on the water, with warm, sunny weather and calm seas. We saw a total of 11 gray whales, including one group of four. Unfortunately we didn’t find any dolphins but everyone had a great time watching our wonderful grays.

PM: The excellent viewing conditions continued into the afternoon. A couple of Pacific bottlenose dolphins escorted us almost to the mouth of the bay, bow-riding on the pressure wave created by the boat’s forward motion. Once we got out on the open ocean, we quickly spotted a group of three adult gray whales traveling together and we spent a considerable amount of time observing them. Turning back to the north, we found a single juvenile gray moving slowly south and watched it for a bit before turning back toward home after another wonderful day out on the water.


3 gray whales

10 gray whales

AM: Sea was in good form. We saw 2 juvenile gray whales going south and one adult gray whale. We followed them for about 40 minutes.

PM: Followed 2 adult gray whales for about 30 minutes that were seen right away at buoy number 1. Soon after, 2 more adult gray whales appeared. Moved about a mile and found two more. Then moved two miles and found a pod of 4 gray whales. Great show and very close!

(2 were really large female whales, one male and one juvenile)

On the way in we saw about two or three whales in the distance that gave us a show of 10 breaches.  Great finale.

San Diego Whale Watching Report: More Newborn Gray Whale Calf Sightings


Photo by Ken Shelby, SDNHM Whaler of Mom and Baby whale tail

baby Whale from Keith Jones

Photo by Keith Jones of Baby Gray Whale Calf

San Diego Whale Watching continues to be successful each day with reports of sightings of tons of whales and dolphins on Hornblower Cruise right off the coast of San Diego. The most exciting reports come directly from the Captains, like Captain Nick Kriesel who has been leading whale watching cruises for years on Hornblower Cruises. Many of his regular crew members say that Captain Nick has excellent “whale karma” since on a majority of his trips he sights spectacular gray whale behaviors. These whale behaviors include breaching and mating.

Here’s Captain Nick’s whale watching report from yesterday 1/22/14:

The a.m. Whale Watching trip on Adventure Hornblower,  we saw three ( 3) gray whales one of them being a newborn gray whale calf, no more than 2-3 days old.  We saw 60 white sided dolphins and common dolphins. It was a great trip.

The afternoon Whale Watching trip on Adventure Hornblower,  we saw seven (7) gray whales, a group of 4 swimming very fast in a south direction at 8 knots! Another great showing!

More info on Gray Whales:

Gray whale breeding occurs mostly in the winter to early spring while near the surface and in warm waters. The gestation period is about 13.5 months and the calf is born head first (unusual for cetaceans) and near the surface of the warm, shallow waters. The newborn instinctively swims to the surface within 10 seconds for its first breath; it is helped by its mother, using her flippers. Within 30 minutes of its birth the baby whale can swim. The newborn calf is about 15 feet long and weighs about 1-1.5 ton. Twins are extremely rare (about 1% of births); there is almost always one calf. The baby is nurtured with its mother’s fatty milk (53% fat) and is weaned in about 7-8 months. The mother and calf may stay together for about a year. Calves drink 50-80 pounds of milk each day. Gray whales reach maturity at 8 years. Growth stops at age 40 years old. Mature females give birth every other year in the warm lagoons off Baja, Mexico.

Gray whales have a life expectancy of 50-60 years.



San Diego Whale Watching Report For January 15th-January 21


Morning Cruise

Afternoon Cruise



2 singles adult gray whales

6 gray whales, 1 mola mola

AM: We saw 2 single adult gray whales that met up and began traveling together. Our 60 plus third graders from Ramona loved it.

PM: Fantastic day! We saw a total of six gray whales and 1 medium sized Mola Mola floating along very close to the boat. The two whales we were following appeared to be juveniles, with small flukes. Captain Chad estimated them to be about 20-25 feet long.  We stayed with them the entire time as they were visible right below the surface, snorkeling steadily along in no hurry, rarely showing a fluke and not diving either.  When they were directly in front of the bow one breached two times in a row to the delight of the crowd, all of whom whooped and clapped for more. Some people captured the breach on camera, Captain Chad encouraged anyone with pictures to send them to the Hornblower website and he would tell them how to do that. Captain Chad was terrific, so nice and helpful, and told some facts I hadn’t heard before about San Diego and other items.


9 gray whales, 2 pods of 4-5 gray whales, 200 common dolphin

10 gray whales, 100 common dolphin, several pods of gray whales

AM: 9 gray whales with numerous blows in distance. 200 common dolphin.

PM: Shortly after leaving the harbor, a dense fog rolled in and lingered for 20-30 minutes before dissipating. After the fog, the sun reappeared and we saw a group of 3 gray whales. We saw a total of 10 gray whales and numerous blows in the distance all around the ship. All whales seen near the boat were traveling with another whale. We also saw 50 common dolphin. Quite a few first timers and several families from San Diego that had never been whale watching before.


3 adult gray whales, 6 juvenile, 10-15 white sided dolphin

2 pods of juvenile gray whales

AM: 3 adult gray whales heading south (also 6 juvenile), lots of sea lion activity. We also saw about 10-15 white sided and common dolphin

PM: 2 separate pods of active juvenile gray whales (4 and 2) with light dives and flukes dipping into the water.


9 gray whales

5 gray whales

AM: We had a wonderful day on the water watching 7 single gray whales. We then had a great encounter with a mother and new born calf. We saw many of our friendly sea lions out about 5 miles off the coast. 2 pods of common dolphin in the distance.

PM: We followed 3 gray whales and observed mating behavior. Today we had a very bad day with other boats getting too close to the whales. The Captain had to warn one particular boat of the laws they apparently did not know about. Tourists were obviously upset with these other boaters.                                                          “On any one day, I can’t say enough about the great crowds of people from all over the world that take Hornblower Excursions.”


10 gray whales, 2 bottlenose dolphin & 25 pacific white sided dolphin

10 gray whales, 2 bottlenose dolphin & 25 pacific white sided dolphin

AM: We saw 10 gray whales heading south, 2 bottlenose dolphin and 25 Pacific White Sided Dolphin. Mating behavior was observed with dolphins around the whales. Lots of tail splashing, flutes and snorkeling. We had passengers from all over the world on this cruise!

PM: We had a beautiful record breaking temperature. An especially beautiful day. We saw 6 gray whales heading south weaving around one another, which we then observed as mating behavior. We also saw many pelicans happily dive fishing together.


3 gray whales, 70 common dolphin

2 finback whales, 5 gray whales

AM: We saw our first two finback whales of the season! We also had the opportunity to see 5 gray whales and about 100 common dolphins.  Two of the southbound whales were seen with a calf between the two of them.

PM: We saw 7 gray whales.  We first noticed two fins, and eventually 5 gray whales appeared. The last 3 gray’s showed signs of mating and one breached 3 times. The trip was full of excitement! We were able to see multiple breaches, body rolls, upside down whales and pectoral fin slaps! It was a great day with fantastic weather on San Diego Bay!


12 gray whales

10 gray whales, 30 common dolphin

AM: Many flukes, 1 up close breach

PM: Many tail flukes.

Learn about and track the Gray Whale Migration

Gray Whale Breach

Gray Whale Breach

It’s whale watching season for the Gray Whales in San Diego and the height of the season is this Saturday’s San Diego Big Bay Whale Festival.  In honor of this weekend’s festival, we wanted to share some really cool websites we’ve found about the Gray Whales.

The first one is Journey North’s Gray Whale Sightings.  Journey North is an organization that:

citizen scientists in a global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change. K-12 students share their own field observations with classmates across North America. They track the coming of spring through the migration patterns of monarch butterflies, robinshummingbirdswhooping cranesgray whalesbald eagles— and other birds and mammals; the budding of plants; changing sunlight; and other natural events.

We like their Gray Whale Sightings Map in particular.  Observation posts are highlighted with a yellow stars and actual sightings are denoted with a blue circle.

The second website we really like is National Geographic’s page about the Gray Whales.  National Geographic shares a lot of great information about the species of whales.  They include a map of common areas where gray whales can be found and fast facts about Gray Whales.  Some of the fast facts include:



Size:40 to 50 ft (12.2 to 15.3 m)

Weight:30 to 40 tons (27,200 to 36,300 kg)

Group name:Pod

Protection status:Recovered

Size relative to a bus:

Illustration: Gray whale compared with bus

The third website we enjoy is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Alaska Fisheries Science Center.  NOAA presents a great FAQ about the gray whales, including some very interesting tidbits:

Gray whales used to be known as “devilfish” because they fiercely defend themselves and their calves against whalers.

There are now about 18,000 gray whales in the Eastern Pacific stock.   The eastern North Pacific stock of gray whales was removed from the endangered species list in 1994, however they are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The gray whale Western Pacific stock was believed to be extinct until 1925 when a few gray whales were seen off the coast of Siberia. There are still very few sightings of these whales

The last site that we love is our friends and partners at the San Diego Natural History Museum.  They have some great video, which you can also watch below: