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How to Spot Whales from the Shore

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing a whale in person, then you understand how exciting it is to see some of Earth’s most massive creatures in their natural habitat. Whale watching on a boat, of course, is the most optimal position to be in as they will be physically closer to you in the water. However, being on a boat can’t undermine the excitement that comes along with unexpectedly seeing a whale from the shore. 

So, how can you spot whales from the shore? 

Where to Look

Especially in San Diego with multiple viewpoints, it’s easy to spot whales from the shore, as long as you know the strategy behind where to look. First, look close to shore across the horizon. Make sure you scan your eyes slowly from left to right and take note of anything that breaks the surface of the ocean water. A pro tip is to look around boats; if they’re stopped, they could be specifically out on the water looking for whales! If others are looking for them, then it’s best to follow their lead. Another pro tip is to look for more of a dive rather than just something floating along the ocean. It’s easy to get fooled by inanimate objects, but whales typically surface, dive and then show up again.

animal on the water

What to Look For

To reiterate, in order to not get fooled by something random floating in the ocean, make sure to check for a dive. If you look away from the spot and then look back and whatever you see is still floating, then it’s most likely not a whale. Luckily, to narrow the process down, whales have distinguishing characteristics that make it easy to know when they’re near! Check to see for any of the following:

  1. Blowholes. When a whale exhales, you can see a spray of water out of the top of the ocean that can look like smoke from the shore. If you see this spray of water, don’t let that general area out of your sight. After a whale exhales, it most likely went for a dive, so it can be coming up again shortly!
  2. Tails. It sounds obvious, but all whales have tail flukes. Although they differ in size from one whale species to another, whales use their tail flukes to push them through the water and for diving.
  3. Whales have specific behaviors that should not be overlooked. For example, the spray of water from the blow horn. A big splash from a whale that just dived in. Even a pod of dolphins is an exhibit of mammal behavior! 

Common Whales to See

Luckily, San Diego has some of the best whale watching due to the migration patterns during different times of the year. From mid-December to March, you will most likely see gray whales since up to 27,0000 are typically migrating through the water from Alaska to Baja, California! Another species is the blue whale. They are typically migrating from May up until August, which is an incredible sight to see given they are the biggest ocean mammal! Even if you’re off season, you can still see a blue whale as early as April or as late as September as migration patterns can be unpredictable. Humpback whales are also common to see in San Diego from September to November.