There are many different ways to go whale watching in Northern California, but the two most popular are to whale watch from land and to go on a whale watching "cruise." These are tips that will serve you well, whichever way to you choose to go!
What You Should Think About Before Going
Plan your trip for a time when whales are known to be plentiful - you'll have more fun with lots of whales around
Choose a calm, clear day - you'll be able to see better
Pick a spot or an area that's known for its whale watching - there's a reason it's well known
Plan to be patient - the whales don't come at our beck & call; we have to wait until they're ready to show themselves
What You Should Bring With You
If you'll be aboard a boat, bring your favorite motion sickness remedy & wear rubber soled shoes to keep from slipping on wet decks
A good pair of binoculars to better see when you or the whale is not getting close enough
A camera or video cam with a decent zoom lens - whether you're up close or not, you'll probably be glad to have a zoom
Sunscreen, sunglasses, and maybe a hat - the sun can be difficult, even on cloudy days
Warm clothes - it often turns nippy near or on the ocean
A picnic lunch, snacks, drinks - it makes for a nice day & and you won't have to rush off because someone's hungry
What You Should Look For While Whale Watching
If you're watching from shore, try to find a cliff or headland that's considerably higher than sea level for the best view
Also, if you're ashore, keep an eye on the ocean so as not to be caught unaware by a sneaker wave or the tide coming in
Don't look down into the water - scan the surface for spouts, fins, arched backs, & tails
Look for the whale's spout, or "blow," above the surface of the water - you'll often see the blow before you see any other signs
Look for smooth, glassy spots on the surface of the water - these are known as whale "footprints" and they tell you where a whale as been - start looking ahead of the footprint to see where the whale might materialize next
You can actually whale watch year round in Northern California, but you'll see different whales at different times because of the variances in their migratory patterns. And there are some pods of resident whales here and there as well.
If you find yourself whale watching between December and May along the Northern California coast, chances are you'll see plenty of California Gray whales. They'll be migrating south to their breeding grounds in the earlier months, and back north to their feeding grounds in the later months.
Coming between June to September gives you the best opportunity to see Killer whales, since they summer in some areas off the Northern California coast.
And August to October is the high season for Blue whale & Humpbacks. Plan your trip around those time periods and I don't think you'll be disappointed!
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