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Your Next Level Sailing December Whale Watching Guide

a close up of a wire fence

Many people associate whale watching with the summer because it involves going out on a boat for a few hours. Unlike other activities on the water, though, whale watching is a year-round pastime. If you’re looking for something to do on the ocean this December, consider booking a whale-watching tour with Next Level Sailing.

Whale Watching in Winter With NLS

NLS’s whale watching tours depart from Shelter Island Drive in San Diego. If you’re not from the Golden State, the temperatures may be a little higher than you’re expecting. During December, the average high in this city is 66 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average low is 49 degrees Fahrenheit. 

All tours proceed normally during the winter unless the weather is unsafe. While snow is rare, there may be a severe windstorm or thunderstorm that prevents a tour from taking off. Otherwise, you can expect one whale-watching tour per day in December.

How To Prepare for Your Trip

If you have reservations for your first whale watching trip, don’t forget to dress warmly. Even if the weather is warm when you park your car, it can quickly change once the boat leaves the shore. For the best results, start with a base layer such as a T-shirt or tank top, and then add sweatshirts, vests, and coats that you can add or shed as needed. A hat and a scarf are particularly helpful in December.

The Yacht America is big enough that you don’t need to worry about getting your feet wet, but make sure that your shoes are sturdy and comfortable. If you want to get the best view of the whales, you’ll need to stand for a while, and wearing good shoes ensures that you’re not distracted by blisters or pinches.

Once you’ve got your outfit picked out, add sunscreen and sunglasses to your backpack. The sun isn’t as strong in December as it is in the summer, but our tours are three hours long, so there’s plenty of time for you to pick up a sunburn if you don’t protect your skin. 

Some passengers like to bring binoculars so that they can get a close-up look at the whales. Feel free to bring a pair, but if you don’t have one, you can get a great view of the whales without one. Also, if you want to take pictures of any whales (or beautiful views) you come across, pack your camera or make sure that your phone is fully charged and that you have plenty of storage available.

Every NLS tour reservation includes access to granola bars, soda, water, and other snacks during the trip. You can also pack drinks, snacks, and meals if you want something more substantial. Please leave your alcoholic drinks on shore, and choose plastic containers and bottles rather than glass ones to avoid accidents with shattered glass.

Finally, when your December tour’s departure time gets closer, make sure to check in with the staff near the free parking zone. You can check in up to an hour before your tour sets sail.

What Whales Can You See in December?

In December, blue whales and humpback whales are not very common off the coast of San Diego because the krill population is lower during this time. Thankfully, December is the beginning of the gray whales’ migration period, which lasts until April. During this time, gray whales swim from the Bering Sea, which is between Alaska and Russia, to Mexico, where the water is much warmer during the winter. San Diego is a great place to catch gray whales as they either head down to Mexico or start returning to the Bering Sea, depending on how warm the ocean is that year.

As their name suggests, gray whales have gray skin, but you may notice white markings on them. These markings are scars caused by fish and other parasites that rely on whales to get around the ocean. Their eyes are very small, and instead of dorsal fins, they have dorsal humps spotted with between six and 12 bumps, which are called knuckles.

Gray whales are huge mammals, weighing at most 60,000 pounds and reaching almost 50 feet in length. These whales are unique to the Pacific Ocean, and they are much more common off the coast of the Americas than off the coast of Eurasia, where they are endangered. Around 22,000 of them exist in total. 

Common names for gray whales include Pacific gray whales, gray back whales, and California gray whales. If you want to get technical, their scientific name is Estrichtius robustus, and they are classified as baleen whales. This means that the whales you’ll see don’t have teeth; instead, they use a special row of bones called baleens to feed off plankton in the water around them. 

Unlike the whales that most passengers have in mind, gray whales have two blowholes. These holes work like nostrils, allowing them to breathe even if their mouths are still underwater. Because they have two blowholes, gray whales’ exhalations are usually heart-shaped.

Expect to find gray whales on their own or with just a few other whales, unless your tour gets close to an area with lots of plankton. Particularly large whales are likely to be females, while whales that are less than 20 feet long are newborns. Scientists still do not know how old these whales live, but they estimate that they may live for up to 80 years. As a result, you could see gray whales of all ages during your NLS tour.

Although gray whales have been called “devil fish” in the past, they are gentle creatures, especially now that whale farming is illegal. The gray whales you see will either leave your boat alone or swim a little closer to see what you’re doing on the water, but they are not threatening.

Follow this guide to NLS whale-watching in December to plan the perfect day spotting gray whales and having fun with your fellow passengers.