GRAY WHALE SAFARI – GOOD OPTIONS FOR SEEING THE WHALES
It’s a uniquely West Coast phenomenon that you can only experience a few months of the year—starting right now. Choose your ocean “vessel” that will transport you slowly out to sea. Feel the sun filtering off the deepening blue of the ocean and the fine mist of salty moisture coating your face. The shore is still visible a few miles away. Suddenly, just ahead, the calm is replaced by a liquid explosion created by gigantic popping tails in tandem, breaking through the surface of the Pacific. You have found yourself in the midst of the gray whales’ wintering adventure.
About 28,000 gray whales follow a 5,000-mile migration path from Alaska to Baja, Mexico each year along our coastline from January through late spring. The journey to their birthing grounds is an amazing sight to see. Last year’s migration set record sightings, possibly due to the calm oceans and clear skies, and this year may be just as impressive. In Southern California, we are blessed with myriad whale watching options, from large boats carrying hundreds to kayaks for two. This year, you might want to intensify the thrill by opting for a truly “Discovery Channel”-style experience, up close and personal.
Hear them breathe
You won’t forget a whale watching adventure, sailboat style. Sail San Diego, based in picturesque Shelter Bay, is a three-hour trip reserved for just two to six lucky whaling adventurers on each trip.
Guests choose from a morning or afternoon sail on a comfortable 40-foot Catalina with plenty of room to stretch out and secure up-close views of the whales. Sail San Diego furnishes blankets, extra jackets, hats, windbreakers, sunscreen, sunglasses and binoculars.
There is nothing but praise for this whale-watching choice, but probably the most convincing reason to choose this tour is the lack of both crowds and noise. Because the sailboat is so very quiet, you can often hear the whales breathing as they approach. The gray whales are known to avoid the large, motor-driven vessels and head straight into the sailboat’s path. (www.sailsandiego.com)
Kayak among whales
Hike Bike Kayak San Diego offers this novel way to catch sight of the spectacular creatures—by kayak launching out from scenic La Jolla Shores and paddling at a leisurely pace for about a mile. The three-hour tours are offered daily through March and include kayaks, paddles, wetsuits, life jackets, a guide and after-tour warm drinks and snacks. No kayaking experience is required and a brief paddle and a safety lesson happens before you hit the waves. (www.hikebikekayak.com )
San Diego-based Hornblower Cruises’ whale watching season runs through the end of March and offers a 3 ½-hour cruise aboard its 150-foot-long vessel, Adventure Hornblower. The 600-seat yacht is one of the fastest whale watching vessels in the Pacific and offers a great sundeck with bird’s eye views of the marine life. The interior of the ship is climate controlled with hot food service and a complete bar. What makes Hornblower truly unique is its guarantee—if you don’t spot a whale on your cruise, you a get a pass for another cruise. (wwww.hornblower.com )
Intimate encounters in Dana Point
“Captain” Dave Anderson is a marine naturalist who has been leading dolphin and whale watching trips from Dana Point since 1995. Anderson is also in the forefront of whale rescue programs, largely due to the whales’ propensity to become entangled in fishing gear. Passengers on the 2 ½-hour adventure that leaves Dana Point Harbor daily are uniquely transported on a high-speed catamaran with underwater viewing opportunities. The 35-foot craft allows for intimate encounters with pods of dolphins and the wintering whales. “We have a living, breathing, moving Yosemite off our coast, and people who live here are unaware of it,” said Anderson. “That is what the boat is all about. It’s like getting down on the floor to be at eye level with a child.” The Dana Point Festival of Whales takes place March 5-6 and March 12-13, promising a “whale” of a good time. (www.dolphin safari.com)
Custom watching in Long Beach
Harbor Breeze Cruises in Long Beach has the distinction of being the first Los Angeles whale watching service to provide passengers with a boat custom made for whale watching. The Christopher was specifically designed to offer the best amenities for whale watching tours, from stadium seating to spectator viewing points. The boat also contains a salon with multiple 52” flat panel televisions, which display interesting information about whales. The Christopher has a cruising speed of 20 knots which means it can cover double the ocean of other boats and double the whale-viewing possibilities. In addition, a whale-savvy biologist from the Aquarium of the Pacific accompanies all tours. Whale watching cruises are offered every day at noon and 3 p.m. (www.2seewhales.com )
The season arrives in the South Bay
The historic 1892 coastal town of Redondo Beach, with its romantic seafront esplanade, famous Horseshoe Pier, early surfing legacy and charming shops and cafes, may capture this Southern California beach beat best.
Catch a glimpse of the magnificent grays as they migrate to Baja, either from shore or on one of the marina boats that offer harbor and nature cruises. For landlubbers, be sure to stop by the Whaling Wall, the second largest marine mural created by artist Wyland. His realistic depiction of gray whales covers exterior walls of the AES Generating Station.
The 65-foot, 140-passenger Voyager whale watch and nature cruise boat offers daily whale watching excursions departing from the Redondo Beach Sports Fishing Pier and cruising off the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the Catalina Channel along the migration route.
Voyager gives you more than just the opportunity to see the whales, it is also grants you the opportunity to learn more about these “gentle giants of the sea” and other majestic creatures you are apt to spy. Each whale adventure is narrated by a trained naturalist from the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. Voyager claims a high success rate in spotting the whales, but also regularly boasts sightings of playful porpoises, dolphins, flying fish, sea lions, harbor seals and a variety of birds.
Reservations are required; tickets are reasonable for the memorable 2 ½- to 3-hour tour. Nicely, a portion of each ticket sold is donated to CMA/ACS—the oldest whale conservation group in the world, according to Voyager.(www.voyagerexcursions.com)
Pet the whales
The gray whales’ wintering migration ends in famed Scammons Lagoon (Laguna Ojo De Libre) in Baja, and this offering is like no other whale-watching expedition you are apt to experience. Called “The Best of Baja’s Whales, Dolphins & Sea Lions Tour,” the six-day trip, that combines air and boat, is offered exclusively by Baja Airventures. Your small group is flown from San Diego in private planes to Scammons Lagoon where whale watching means visiting the whale “nursery” close enough to pet the baby mammals. A boat takes you to Las Animas Wilderness Retreat for the remaining days to kayak, snorkel, bird watch, hike and play. Transportation, lodging, meals and more are included in the six-day adventure. (www.bajaairventures.com)
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