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Your Complete Guide To Whale Watching Season 2023

In today’s busy world, it’s easy to overlook the wonders of nature that are just outside of our tech-driven lives. One of the most awesome spectacles to see are whales in their natural habitat in the ocean. Whale watching gives us a window into this world, and if you’re ready to take a peak, here’s your guide to the 2023 whale-watching season.

What Months Are Best For Whale Watching

San Diego is a popular destination for whale watching due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the migratory patterns of several species of whales. Thanks to all of those different patterns, it’s possible to see a whale at nearly any time of the year, even during the middle of winter.

With each month and season, different whales will be migrating up and down the coast. For example, visit San Diego to catch a look at a humpback whale from late spring to early winter. For gray whales, take a tour during the colder months to see the beautiful animals’ surface more often. It’s fun to plan multiple whale-watching tours in San Diego throughout the year and see a wide variety. 

animal on the water

Top Locations for Whale Watching

Thanks to the expansive coastlines of the U.S., there are lots of locations for whale watching. Here are a few to consider:

1. San Diego, California

The waters off the coast of San Diego are home to a variety of whale species, including gray whales, blue whales, humpback whales, fin whales, Bryde’s whales, and killer whales. The peak season for gray whale watching in San Diego is typically from December to April, when the gray whales are passing through on their way south to Baja California and back up to Alaska. Spring is the best time to see blue whales as they come to San Diego to feed. Depending on the food supply, we see a variety of whales throughout the summer and fall. Whale watching is year round in San Diego. 

2. San Juan Islands, Washington

The San Juan Islands, located in the northwest corner of Washington state, are home to a resident population of killer whales. The best time to see killer whales in the San Juan Islands is from May to September when the whales are most active.

3. Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Located on the eastern coast of Massachusetts, Cape Cod is a popular destination for whale watching. Humpback whales and fin whales can be seen in the waters off Cape Cod from April to October, while minke whales and endangered North Atlantic right whales can be seen from May to November.

4. Alaska

Alaska is home to a variety of whale species, including gray whales, humpback whales, and killer whales. The best time to see whales in Alaska depends on the species, but the peak season is from May to September.

Types of Whales You Will See

There are dozens of species of whales, and many of them migrate along the American coasts. Catching them on a whale-watching tour is an exhilarating experience that you should try to have at least once.

a dog swimming in the water

Gray whales are perhaps the most commonly sighted whale in the waters off San Diego. These whales migrate along the California coast each year, traveling from the icy waters of the Arctic to the warm, shallow lagoons of Baja California to breed and give birth. The peak season for gray whale watching in San Diego is typically from December to April, when the whales are passing through on their way south to Baja California and then back up to Alaska. 

Blue whales, the largest animals on earth, can also be found off the coast of San Diego. These massive whales, which can grow up to 100 feet in length and weigh over 150 tons, can be sighted in the waters off San Diego from late spring through early fall. Blue whales are known for their distinctive blue-gray coloration and their long, slender bodies.

Humpback whales, known for their distinctive humps and long pectoral fins, can be seen along the west coast. These whales are known for their acrobatic displays, including breaching (jumping out of the water) and tail slapping. Humpback whales can be seen in the waters off San Diego from late spring through mid-winter. 

Orcas, sometimes called killer whales, are also found in the waters of San Diego. These large predatory whales are easily recognizable by their black-and-white coloration and tall, triangular dorsal fins. Killer whales can be seen in the waters off San Diego year-round, but are more commonly sighted in the fall. 

Tips For the Best Whale-Watching Experience

Before you take off on your whale-watching tour, make sure you’re prepared so you have an experience you’ll treasure forever. Start with your touring company. Do your research and choose a tour operator that has a good reputation and follows all necessary safety guidelines. At Next Level Sailing, we have experienced boat captains who have been sailing for years and have expertise when it comes to observing whales in their habitat.

Make sure to dress appropriately. The weather conditions out on the water can be different than on land, with drastic differences in temperature and the potential to get wet from waves, breaches and sea spray. Wear water-resistant layers and shoes, and bring a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun.

Don’t forget to bring a camera or smartphone to capture photos of your whale-watching experience. Remember to be patient. Whales are wild animals and can be difficult to predict, so be prepared to wait for them to appear.

2023 Whale Conservation

As much as everyone wants to see whales in their natural space, everyone has a duty to protect them as well. While on a tour, it is important to follow the guidelines set by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These guidelines include maintaining a distance of at least 100 yards from the whales, avoiding making loud noises or sudden movements, and not approaching the whales directly from behind or the front.

When you aren’t on a tour, you can support whale conservation by supporting causes that protect the oceans and marine life and promote sustainability like the American Cetacean Society. 

Enjoy Whale Watching This Season

If you want to connect to nature this year or you have experiences you want to check off your bucket list, make a plan to go whale watching. Book with Next Level Sailing for a chance to see these animals up close in their natural habitat.