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Orca Sightings: Can You See Killer Whales Off The Coast Of San Diego?

Its iconic black and white appearance causes shivers up the spines of passionate whale watchers. Orcas, also known as “Killer Whales,” are described as the mecca of all whale sightings. These whales are often associated with San Diego due to Sea World’s main attraction, the Orca Encounter, where you can watch orcas perform and learn more about them in general. However, observing one of the ocean’s most magnificent creatures is extremely different in a show setting versus in their natural habitat. So, other than the Orca Encounter, many curious whale watchers ask the following question: Can you see killer whales in San Diego?

Orca Sightings in San Diego

The answer is yes-but they’re harder to spot. Although there is a large population of killer whales as a whole, orcas are more widely spread out geographically, which only makes it even more exciting to witness a killer whale sighting in San Diego! Typically whale watchers venture to San Diego to watch the great migration of gray whales that pass through on their journey from Alaska to Baja, California. However, San Diego is one of the few cities along the coast that does have a more dense population of killer whales compared to other parts of the world. There is a higher chance at spotting orca whales in San Diego during feeding times when their prey has a large population as well. The best time to see killer whales while whale watching is late summer – fall. 

Although orcas come with an intimidating reputation, they are not all that interested in preying on humans. Orcas got their nickname of “Killer Whales” from sailors who witnessed them attack large sea creatures. They were referred to as “whale killers” by the sailors, which eventually changed to “killer whales.” Adult male orcas are typically 20-26 feet and weigh between 8,000-12,000 pounds. Adult female orcas are typically 16-23 feet and weigh between 3,000-6,000 pounds. Even though their species is more spread out compared to other whale species, their large size combined with their unique coloring makes for undeniably one of the most exciting whale watching experiences you could ask for. 

Recent Orca Sightings

There is a significant population of orca whales living off the coast of San Diego. They don’t make themselves known very often, and they are quite spread out. Even so, whale watchers sight them every year, often while out seeing other, more frequently spotted species such as gray whales and bottlenose dolphins.

Orca Whale Behavior & Communication

Orcas are very social creatures that live and travel in pods, or groups made up of two or more. As their nickname implies, they are predators — and they work together to hunt their prey. This requires communication, which orca whales accomplish through underwater sounds such as clicks, pulses, and whistles.

Protecting Orcas 2022

It’s important to protect the orca population by avoiding overfishing (which can deplete food supply) and keeping the ocean clear of environmental hazards like chemical pollutants. Additionally, orcas can be prone to getting entangled in fishing gear. 

How to Spot an Orca Whale

One of the best ways to see an orca in its natural habitat is to book a whale watching tour. Experienced sailor guides can help you identify a wide variety of marine life, including at least one type of whale.

Fun Facts About Orcas

  •     Orcas are technically dolphins, which are closely related to whales.
  •     Orcas cannot smell, but their sense of hearing is far superior to that of a human.
  •     To stay conscious while sleeping, orcas slumber with one eye open — and one half of their brain alert.

To learn more about these amazing animals and to sight whales off the coast of San Diego, book your adventure with Next Level Sailing.

Fun Facts About Orcas

  1. Orcas are known for their distinct, striking features; as it turns out, their coloring actually has a purpose! Orcas in San Diego have what is known as “disruptive coloration,” which is a term used to describe when a color pattern for an animal contradicts its body shape. This unique attribute actually camouflages killer whales by making them unrecognizable by other animals in the filtered sunlight of the sea.  
  2. Killer whales swim at around 30 mph, which makes them one of the fastest swimming marine mammals.
  3. Orcas live in little communities of fellow killer whales known as pods. A pod can include 5-30 whales with a mix of males, females and calves. Pods are known to group with other pods, as well.
  4. There is a social hierarchy in a pod of female-dominant orcas. They establish their social status through physical behaviors, including biting, tooth-ranking, head-butting, jaw-snapping and tail-slapping.
  5. Killer whales have very good hearing; so good that they can process sounds at higher speeds than humans.
  6. Orcas, along with other toothed whales, do not have any sense of smell! 
  7. Female orcas reach sexual maturity between 7-16 years old, while male orcas reach sexual maturity between 10-17.5 years old. Males take longer to mature due to social factors, such as having to compete with other males that are older and larger.
  8. Killer whales in San Diego, as well as the rest of the north Pacific, can’t reproduce after 46 years old.
  9. Orcas are technically dolphins, which are closely related to whales.
  10. Orcas cannot smell, but their sense of hearing is far superior to that of a human.
  11. To stay conscious while sleeping, orcas slumber with one eye open — and one half of their brain alert.

At Next Level Sailing, our experienced team of sailors do whatever they can to have passengers witness a killer whale sighting in San Diego. Even if there aren’t any roaming around during your trip, our sailors ensure you will at least spot one whale. If you don’t, we promise to take you out on another whale watching trip free of charge until you do. We focus on the best experience possible for our passengers and pride ourselves on having an extremely stable boat to avoid sea sickness and a ruined trip out on the water. We are so confident in our abilities that we will even offer a free meal at a nearby restaurant if you do fall victim to motion sickness. Sign up to work with the best at Next Level Sailing!