Whale Watching in Southern California

May 19, 2010 by Lindsay Pullin

Living so close to the ocean, I always feel intrigued to do all things related to the ocean. After all, it’s a unique opportunity and pleasure to spend so much time near the Pacific. So this month I went whale watching, as a way to enjoy the nice weather–twice actually. Below I’ve written about my two whale watching experiences in Newport Beach.

After some internet research, I chose Newport Landing Whale Watching in Newport Beach, to take me on their boat to see the whales. I made reservations over the phone for a Sunday afternoon, and arrived half an hour early to buy my tickets ($30 for adults). The boat left a little late though, and got pretty full. We cruised out through Newport Harbor into the ocean in our stated quest to search for Blue Whales, Humpbacks, Finbacks, and possibly Gray whales.

The boat was large and comfortable, and the weather was nice and sunny. Everyone got a good view of Balboa Island, and the boardwalk, as we were exited as we basked in the sunlight. The open sea was calm, but other than a few dolphins, we didn’t see much else besides a lot of water.

When we returned to the harbor, two and a half hours later, we received a coupon for half off Whale Watching tickets in the future because this time we didn’t see any whales. It didn’t feel like a complete waste of time for me though, because I enjoyed the time spent on the boat.

So being disappointed with the first trip, I ate a Balboa bar to make myself feel better, because after all, I was still on the boardwalk, and a Balboa bar can make anyone happy.  I had my heart set on seeing a whale though (which is something a Balboa Bar can’t fix), so using my discount coupon, I decided to try my luck a second time.

This time, instead of Newport Landing, I chose another whale watching boat service, Davey’s Locker Whale Watching, a sister company to Newport Landing.  They accepted my half off coupons I received from Newport Landing without hesitation.

The weather was not as cooperative on this day—we had gray skies and wind.  It was smooth sailing out of the harbor, but we hit some larger waves once we were out in the ocean.  However, heading out into the ocean, we encountered a huge pod of dolphins. This brought the inescapable screeches of excitement from kids and adults alike.  However, our captain saw something even bigger in the distance, and immediately set off to find….a blue whale, that was surfacing for air.

The whale would come up for air, and then dive for about 8 minutes, before resurfacing again. Our boat hung around for several surfacings, before another boat, "The Western Pride," showed up. Turns out that our boat’s Captain had called them and told them about the whale, and both ships edged up close to the whale for even closer viewing.

We were about to turn around when the whale engaged in an activity that Captain Austin said he hadn’t seen once in the three years he’d been on the boat. The blue whale was lunge feeding by rolling through large concentrations of krill.

As we made our way back to the harbor, I had a few words with our Captain, Austin Bell, who is as young as he looks. He said he’d been driving the boat for 3 years, and it was one of his favorite things. Joe was the deckhand, who also is the ship’s photographer. They seemed to encompass the laid back attitude of Newport Beach, listening to Jack Johnson softly and looking for whales.

If and when you decide to take a whale watching tour, be sure to bring a jacket because it gets breezy, and wear sunscreen because you’re outside in the ocean and sun for about 3 hours. Also, be prepared to be disappointed, because there’s a good chance you might not see any whales at all, but you’ll probably see dolphins, and sea lions, and get to spend the day outside on the ocean, which is pretty cool and fun anyway.

But when you do see a whale, it’s exciting, and a really unique experience to be able to get so close to such a large animal. During this time and afterward, you can’t help smiling and feeling good. If you’re thinking about heading out to sea for some whale watching, now is a good time, when the weather is nice and the days are getting longer.

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