One Whale of a Tour


Gray WhaleIt’s whale watching season in San Diego! I’ll tell you about my amazing whale of an experience at the end of this post. More importantly, be sure to look for a glimpse of the Gray Whales over the next two weeks as they return from their breeding grounds in the Gulf of California back to the shores of Alaska. Gray Whales are only found in two regions of the world, Northeast Asia and our own coastline. Fortunately for us, they are only visible from shore as they pass the Southern and Central California coastline. (We San Diegans just seem to be in the right place for everything.)

The 12,500 mile ‘California’ Gray Whale migration is the longest known migration among mammals. They head south past San Diego starting in the latter part of December and then return north past San Diego up through the beginning of March. The best place from land to catch a glimpse of the whales is Cabrillo National Monument. To get a closer view, there are several boat tour companies that offer morning and afternoon trips. I highly recommend you obtain advance reservations as the tours often sell out. If any of you have recommendations on which tour companies to use, please share them in the comments.

As for my whale of a story, I took a tour on the last day of whale watching season my first year in San Diego. There was some concern we might be too late to catch the final whales making their return migration to Alaska. After searching the seas for what seemed to be forever, and nearly losing hope, we finally spotted them. If you have not gone on a tour because you figure you have already seen them on your big screen TV, I have to tell you from first hand knowledge that seeing them in person is a completely different experience. Up to this point, my story must seem quite ordinary, especially when I tell you we were nearing the end of our trip and watching the afternoon tour guests lining up on the deck as we approached to drop anchor. I’m glad I was not one of those afternoon tour guests.

Without notice, our boat made a 180 and started back out to sea. That certainly woke up most of us who were trying to get our final moments of nap time before we returned to our regular lives. Another few minutes passed before the captain finally made an announcement that Killer Whales had been spotted by another boater. Killer Whales, also known as Orcas, only come ‘somewhat’ close to shore once every several years. The captain apologized to us for the significant change in plans but figured most of us wouldn’t mind, considering this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see wild Killer Whales in person. He also told us not to feel guilty for the afternoon crowd left behind on the docks. The whales would likely be gone by the time the next tour boarded and headed out to sea, so no one would get to see them.

With eager anticipation, minutes seemed like hours. “Will we catch up to them? Will the trip be worth all this extra time?” The answers were Yes and Absolutely Yes! Four Killer Whales (with more in the distance) put on one amazing show. They were not afraid of us at all and headed straight for the ship in unison. We all held our breath not knowing if they were being hostile or benevolent towards our presence. Under the boat they went. You could have heard a pin drop as not a peep was made on board.

Swish! The whales exit the water, on the opposite side of the boat, heading high into the air (all four in unison like synchronized swimmers) and splashed back down. A collective ‘Whoa!’ finally broke the silence. As we all looked in amazement, it was Shamu times 4 but realizing they were wild, not trained, Orcas. They turned around, made another pass under the boat, and again, made an acrobatic jump in unison. They spent the next half hour entertaining us before finally moving on north, jumping in and out of the water in unison as the progressed off into the distance.

So, you ask, where are the pictures? Well, that Saturday morning, I was actually heading downtown to put in an extra few hours of work. I started to feel a little guilty toward myself for working so many hours my first few months in San Diego and not taking in the full experience of the reasons why I had packed the car, with whatever belongings could fit, and moved across the country. At the last moment I pulled off the I-5 at Sea World Drive and headed over to Quivira Basin, where the boat tours headed out from at the time. At first, I thought I had run out of luck as I was told all the tours were sold out. They suggested I stick around in case someone didn’t show up.

Well, as I was waiting and debating whether I should just head to the office, it turned out I was in the right place at the right time. Two wonderful gals came up to me and asked if I knew of anyone who needed an extra ticket. My eyes lit up as I said yes and they handed it over. I looked down as I went to pull the wallet out of my pocket. I looked back up with my cash in hand and there was no one in front of me but a big crowd of people waiting to board the boat. My benefactors were gone, never to be seen again, not even on the boat, at least from what I could recognize.

It is still an experience that is hard for me to believe actually occurred. I remember everything that happened the rest of that day from writing an email about the experience to all of my friends back East to telling my story at a hundred miles an hour to a stranger I met in my apartment complex, who then became a friend. After I finished my story to her, I learned she had just arrived from the Czech Republic and only spoke broken English.

That was my one Whale of a Tour and just another reason San Diego is such a great place.

Read more posts about: Get to Know San Diego |You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “One Whale of a Tour”

  1. Carole says:

    Wonderful story, and it reminds me again of how magical this place is. Thanks.

What do you think about this unique aspect of life in San Diego?

Connect with Facebook

Or, fill in the form below: