Sightings Every Day

Blue Whale Watching Season is June 30 to Sept. 4th

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2017 Whale Watching Report

DateMorning CruiseNotes
09/04/201725-30 Risso's Dolphins, 1 Minke Whale

A nice calm day for our last whale watch of the summer season. We spotted several rafts of gulls and shearwaters (seabirds) resting on the surface just out from the Bay along with a jaeger (a gull-like seabird) flying overhead. About midway through the cruise, we finally the spotted dorsal fins of Risso's dolphins-slowly milling around near water's surface. Such an exciting sight! We watched these rarely-seen dolphins for about an hour. We then went to see a Minke Whale that was spotted nearby and were able to have several close looks at this often-elusive baleen whale. What a wonderful way to end the season!

09/03/2017no whales spotted

Low visibility from a summer storm made it difficult to find any whales or dolphins today. We did spot California Sea Lions well offshore in addition to the normal locations we see them in San Diego Bay.

09/02/20171 Blue Whale, 2 Minke Whales, 200+ Common Dolphins

An amazing day that began with perfect conditions and a herd of playful Common Dolphins after leaving the Bay. We then encountered 2 Minke Whales. These small, baleen whales gave us several very close looks. We then were thrilled to find a Blue Whale, which also gave us several close looks before lifting its flukes out of the water before diving. Always such an incredible sight!

09/01/2017500+ Common Dolphins

Very foggy conditions this morning made it challenging to find whales. While we couldn't find any baleen whales, we had dolphins galore today! Everyone enjoyed watching a herd of 500+ acrobatic and playful Common Dolphins-including some that were riding the bow of the Adventure.

08/21/2017500+ Common dolphins, 1 Baleen Whale

It was a megapod Monday with a large herd of more than 500 Common Dolphins. We did spot a baleen whale in the distance, but it eluded us and we could not identify the species.


Whale Watching cruise cancelled.


Whale Watching cruise cancelled.

08/18/20173 Blue Whales, 1 Minke Whale, 150+ Common Dolphins, 1 Mola mola

Today was a perfect day for whale watching with blue skies and calm waters. It took a long time, but we finally saw a Mola mola (ocean sunfish) and then a lively pod of 150 common dolphins. Finally, when we had little time left, we headed north up the coast and found 3 blue whales and a minke whale. One of the blues was very cooperative, giving us many views of it blowing and hanging out on the surface. We got back late but everyone agreed the blues made it well worth the extra time.

08/14/20172 Bryde's Whale, 800+ Common Dolphins, 1 Bottlenose Dolphin, 2 Mola molas/ Ocean Sunfish

Today we rounded out a fin-tastic weekend of baleen whale sightings with a Bryde's whale cow-calf pair. Bryde's whales are large baleen whales that are distinguished by the three ridges on top of their head (other baleen whales only have one median ridge). Bryde's whales are also rarely seen off our coast and usually prefer warmer waters. Guests also had fun watching a group of 800+ Common Dolphins during our Whale Watch cruise, which surrounded the Adventure Hornblower at one point. We also spotted two Mola molas, aka Ocean Sunfish. What a variety of wildlife on this fabulous cruise!

08/13/20172 Minke Whales, 1 Fin Whale, 200+ Common Dolphins

We lucked out today and spotted not just one, but three baleen whales! We began with several great views of a Minke Whale. Next was a gigantic Fin Whale with an extremely loud blow/spout, which made it very easy to spot when it surfaced. Our third whale was another Minke. We also enjoyed a herd of more than 200 Common Dolphins to round out a beautiful, action-packed day on the water.

08/12/2017200+ Common Dolphins

It was a great day to dolphin watch! Guests enjoyed multiple sightings of more than 200 playful common dolphins.

08/11/20171 Blue Whale

The Blues are back in local waters! Today we found a very large Blue Whale, traveling slowly. We were able to stay with this magnificent whale for 45 minutes, giving everyone several nice, close looks.


Whale Watch cruise cancelled.

08/06/2017150+ Common Dolphins, 3 California Sea Lions, Hammerhead Shark

Another wildlife-filled day on the ocean. Although the big baleen whales eluded us today, we did come across a large area with lots activity- with Common Dolphins, California sea lions, and diving seabirds working the bait ball and hunting for fish. Several of the dolphins also rode the bow wave of the Adventure, which is always so much fun! A nice bonus was spotting a hammerhead shark and tracking its dorsal fin as it swam from the bow to the stern of the boat.

08/05/20171,100 Common Dolphins

What an action-packed, dolphin-filled morning! Early in the trip we came across a spectacular megapod of Common Dolphins. The dolphins were spread out over an area of about a half square mile. The dolphins and seabirds were actively feeding on a large school of baitfish. Captain Richard let the boat drift so that we could get a 360-degree view of the dolphins. We also spotted another group of Common Dolphins on our way into the Bay.

08/04/20173 Minke Whales, 300+ Common Dolphins

An awesome day of Whale Watching today with sightings of 3 Minke Whales. These small, sleek baleen whales grow to 26-33 feet long and have distinctive bands on their flippers called "Minke mittens". Although Minke whales tend to be shy, one of the whales remained close to the boat, giving several great views. We also enjoyed seeing several large groups of Common Dolphins throughout the day. What a fantastic time on the water!

07/31/2017300+ Common Dolphins, 10 Bottlenose Dolphins, 3 Mola mola

A gorgeous day on the water. All guests enjoyed watching hundreds of Common Dolphins, offshore bottlenose and diving seabirds working a bait ball. We also spotted several Mola molas or ocean sunfish.

07/30/20171000+ Common Dolphins, 1 Mola mola

It was a Dolphin Day! Over a thousand Common Dolphins came to interact with the boat over the course of the cruise. Dolphins were leaping high and tail slapping. Just as we were returning to the dock, we enjoyed a clear sighting of a fascinating Mola mola (ocean sunfish).


No Whale Watching Cruise today.

07/24/2017500+ Common Dolphins, 60+ Risso's Dolphins, 100+ Common Bottlenose Dolphins

It was a dolphin day today with dolphins seen throughout our cruise. As soon as we headed out into the ocean, we came across a large herd of playful Common Dolphins. Then when we traveled out to 9-mile Bank, we spotted two dolphin species traveling together; Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins and rarely-encountered Risso's Dolphins. The bottlenose dolphins and a few of the Risso's were breaching clear out of the water, some close to the boat giving us a great show. Many cow-calf pairings were seen in the dolphin groups today. Although we didn't encounter any baleen whales, its always amazing to see three dolphin species in one day!

07/23/20171 Humpback Whale, 50+ Common Dolphin, 12 Common Bottlenose Dolphins

Our trip today started with seeing a beautiful pod of common dolphins followed by a rare sighting of 12 Bottlenose dolphins who were leisurely swimming and stayed fairly close to our boat for quite some time. We cruised out about 9 miles off Point Loma and spotted a Humpback Whale. We spent about 45 minutes watching this energetic whale whale as it breached, tail slapped, and pec-slapped. Unfortunately, Captain Chad noticed that the whale was semi-entangled and began the process to notify the local whale-entanglement group. The crew was supposed to respond in the afternoon if they could locate the whale again. Overall, a great day on the water!


No whale watch cruise today.

07/21/2017750+ Common dolphins

Beautiful sunny day out on the water. We encountered 2 mega pods of Common Dolphins. Approximately 750 dolphins were in a feeding frenzy, frequently leaping out of the water. We got to witness two sets of Navy Seal dolphins in the harbor out for some exercise, including a couple of flips out of the water.

07/17/2017300+ Common Dolphins

We searched for whales with calm seas and blue skies. Although baleen whales eluded us, guests enjoyed watching thousands of playful Common Dolphins including many riding the bow wave of the Adventure Hornblower. A big thank you to Captain Jules who maneuvered the Adventure Hornblower to fish some floating birthday balloons out of the water. Sea turtles and other ocean animals can mistake balloons and other plastic debris for jellyfish prey, so removing these from the ocean is a huge help to sea life. Many of the docents noticed the waters in some places seemed to be roiling and swirling with small fishes and krill. Since blue whales and many other baleen whales eat krill, hopefully they will travel into the San Diego waters to feed.

07/16/20171 Blue Whale, 1,000+ Common Dolphins

We headed 12 miles out from Point Loma and first found a megapod of Common Dolphins, which are always a joy to watch. Finally, just as we were ready to head back to port, we spotted a couple blows of a a juvenile Blue Whale directly in front of us. The whale dove remaining below the surface for more than 15 minutes. Unable to stay with this long-winded whale, we headed back in to port.

07/15/2017500+ Common Dolphins, 5 Common Bottlenose Dolphins

Lots of sea life out in the Pacific today. Although we didn't see any baleen whales, we did find a small group of Bottlenose Dolphins in the mouth of the Bay and then out at sea, a large herd of playful Common Dolphins, along with California Sea Lions, a couple Mola molas (ocean sunfish) and a variety of seabirds.

07/14/20172,000+Common Dolphins

Another calm day with clear skies. We headed about 10 miles off shore and while the big whales were absent, we did find a megapod of Common Dolphins with the herd extending as far as we could see.

07/10/20171 fin Whale, 500+ Common Dolphins

We set off with calm seas and overcast skies that soon cleared to the sun. As soon as we headed offshore, we came across a pod of about 200 Common Dolphins, and more pods as we cruised further out. Several times the dolphins surrounded the Adventure Hornblower, giving us a great show. About 10 miles offshore, Captain Richard spotted a tall spout. It was a Fin Whale, a huge baleen whale second only in size to the Blue Whale. We were able to get glimpses of the whale's dorsal fin and back. Unlike many blue whales, fin whales rarely fluke. After several looks at the fin whale, we headed back into the Bay.

07/09/2017350+ Common Dolphins, 150+ Bottlenose Dolphins

What an awesome dolphin day! We first encountered an energetic group of Common Dolphins. Then, near 9-mile Bank, we spotted a large pod of offshore bottlenose dolphins including many mothers with their calves. We watched the dolphins while we were looking for elusive blue whales. On our way back into San Diego Bay, we ran into a huge herd of Common Dolphins, which showed off with lots of tail slapping and tummy flop moves as they were stunning fish to eat!

07/08/2017200+ Common Dolphins, 40+ Bottlenose Dolphins

Calm seas made perfect viewing conditions for two species of dolphins - Common Dolphins and Bottlenose Dolphins. We spotted many nursery sub-pods of dolphins, with mothers and calves traveling closely together.

07/07/20171,000+ common dolphins

Gorgeous conditions today! While blue whales eluded us, we enjoyed watching a megapod of more than 1,000 common dolphins. The Dolphins were porpoising and feeding on a large school of fish while several species of seabirds dove and fed on the same bait ball.

07/03/20171 Blue Whale, 500+ Common Dolphins

What a magnificent day for whale spotting! The sea was flat: no waves & no wind. Adventure Hornblower searched out to almost 10 miles offshore. Hundreds and hundreds of dolphins, mainly in large pods that were attracted to our yacht's bow wave and stern wakes, throughout the trip. Caught up with 1 northbound Blue Whale to follow for a series of blows, before she dove and we never saw again. Spotted 2 different large whales blowing in the distance, but couldn't confirm whether they were Blues or Fin Whales.

07/02/20176 Blue Whales, 2 Fin Whales, 30 Common Dolphins, 20 Pacific White-sided Dolphins

It was a baleen whale bonanza today with sightings of 6 Blue Whales and 2 Fin Whales! We enjoyed several close looks at the whales including three blues that raised their flukes up out of the water. Seeing both blue whales and fin whales together made it easy to distinguish between the two species. We also had fun watching a small group of Common Dolphins and a group of Pacific White-sided Dolphins.

07/01/201710 Blue Whales, 500+ Common Dolphins

Another gorgeous whale-filled day! We spotted a total of 10 Blue Whales on today's cruise including two whales that showed us their flukes, which can span 30 feet from tip to tip. One whale even hung just below the surface for about 30 minutes giving us up-close looks and a sense of its immense size! To top off this incredible day, we also enjoyed the antics of a large herd of Common Dolphins hanging out near the boat. Several were leaping high out of the water, making it look like they were trying to fly.

06/30/20177 Blue Whales, 200+Common Dolphins, 100+ Bottlenose Dolphins, 1 Mola mola

Opening day was a grand slam! We began with a huge herd of porpoising Common Dolphins. Shortly after, blows were spotted in the distance. As Captain Jules navigated closer, we spotted even more blows. Soon the boat seemed to be surrounded by Blue Whales, some even displaying their lovely flukes! Everyone on board had a good look at the largest mammal on Earth. Often you could hear the whales exhaling. Then, a pod of 100 Bottlenose Dolphins approached and swam near the bow of the boat. Some of the Dolphins leaped entirely out of the water. Delightful! Then on the way back, we spotted a Mola mola and four more Blue Whales all together. What a terrific way to start the season!

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The Peculiar Mola Mola


When you think of a fish, the Mola mola is probably not what you’d picture. This strange fish has a somewhat circular body that is flattened from side-to-side with no caudal (tail) fin and rudder-like top and bottom fins, which the fish flaps to swim. Mola molas are found in temperate (cool) and tropical waters worldwide and are commonly seen on Hornblower Whale Watching trips off San Diego. It is also called the ocean sunfish due to its habit of lying on its side at the water’s surface. This bizarre behavior may help a mola mola warm up after a deep dive or be done to invite seabirds to peck parasites off its skin. The mola mola also often basks near kelp paddies or in kelp beds to allow small fishes to pick off parasites.

The mola mola is the world’s heaviest bony fish, reaching a maximum weight of 5,000 pounds (2,250 kg)! It remarkably attains this great weight on a diet tons of jellyfish, but also occasionally eats small fishes, squid and other gelatinous creatures such as salps. Although mola mola are not endangered, they often eat floating plastic bags—mistaking them for jellyfish prey—which can choke or suffocate these fish. You can help mola molas by making sure your trash (including plastic bags) is always properly disposed of so that it can’t reach the sea. Even better, bring and use reusable bags whenever you are grocery shopping. By taking these simple steps, you can help keep the oceans healthy for mola molas and other ocean wildlife.

Invasion of the Jellyfish!

white-spotted jelly White-spotted Jellyfish have been recently spotted in San Diego Bay

While we may occasionally get visitors from Australia on Hornblower Whale Watch Cruises, recently another Australian visitor has been spotted floating and pulsing in San Diego Bay by the boats. These visitors are white-spotted jellyfish (Phylorrhiza punctata), which are native to Australia, and introduced many areas including Hawaii, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. White-spotted jellyfish were first noticed in San Diego waters in the 1980s and were probably accidentally brought to our coast in the ballast tank or attached to the bottom of a ship. In September of 2015 and again this year, the warmer waters from El Niño may be linked to population explosions and increased sightings of this species.
Jellyfish are cnidarians —a group of aquatic, stinging animals that includes sea anemones, corals, box jellies, hydroids, and siphonophores (Portuguese man-o-wars and other colonial, gelatinous drifters.) Most jellyfish transform from a tiny planktonic larval stage to an attached anemone-like stage to a free-swimming life stage called a medusa. The medusa (or adult stage) is what we typically think of as a jellyfish and is the life stage of the white-spotted jellies in the bay.
Like most other jellies, white-spotted jellyfish have stinging cells in their tentacles that they use to capture zooplankton (tiny, drifting animals) and for defense against possible predators. Although these jellies sting, they are considered mildly venomous and not harmful to humans. However, they can harm habitats. Unintentionally introduced species like the white-spotted jellyfish are termed an “alien” or “invasive” species. The problem with invasive species is that they can out-compete native species that eat the same kinds of prey, especially during population explosions. While no harmful impact has been seen in San Diego, in the Gulf of Mexico, large swarms of these alien visitors have threatened some populations of native fishes and shrimp.

Dolphin stampede!

dolphin stampedeWhile the large baleen whales are often the highlight of whale watching cruises, their smaller cousins, dolphins, often steal the show. On most whale watching cruises, we encounter groups of 50 or more common dolphins. These playful and energetic dolphins often ride the bow and wake of the boat. Occasionally, we see a stampede of common dolphins porpoising at high speed in the same direction. Porpoising is a much more efficient and faster way for  dolphins to travel since the animals experience much less drag (resistance) in air than water. Why do dolphins stampede? They may be traveling towards a large ball of schooling fishes to feed. Often, the cause is a mystery. Whatever the cause, a dolphin stampede is always a thrilling experience!