The heaviest animal to ever live on planet earth(up to 200 tons) feeds off Newport Beach May through October. In California waters, they average about 80 feet long, but are known to reach over 100! The population that frequents the West Coast of the United States stands at about 3,000 whales, which isn’t too far from it’s historical size. On a really good day in the summer, we might see 5-15 individuals feeding on krill off of Orange County. Blue Whales require patience, because their feeding dives can last upwards of 10 minutes. However, waiting is rewarded because when they surface again, they move very little and allow us to get close looks. Having evolved without predators, the blue whale is quite tolerant of approaches by boats. It wasn’t until the past few decades that Blue Whales were sighted with consistency off Newport Beach. These days, it’s one of the best places in the United States for Blue Whale Watching!
You might be able to watch a fin whale any month of the year off Newport Beach, but it seems the Spring time is best. These big animals are at times even more boat friendly than the blue whale. On multiple occasions, we have had them swim circles around the boat to check it out. They also are seen in social groups off Orange County more than their big cousin, the blue whale. They rarely show their tails or jump, but are remain impressive in their size and striking in their dark color.
All around, probably the “best” whale to watch! Humpbacks are shows offs: big, gregarious, and they love to breach! Again, possible to view any month of the year, but feeding is concentrated May through November. Their source of food is anchovies, which have been in great abundance off of Newport Beach in recent years.
The mainstay of Southern California whale watching, Gray Whales can be counted on to pass through the waters of Newport Beach faithfully as they make the longest migration of any mammal on earth! The 12,000 mile round trip from their summer feeding grounds off Alaska to their winter breeding grounds in Mexico makes for excellent viewing December through May. In the spring time during the northbound migration, Newport Beach becomes a playground for mom and baby whales as they stop to rub themselves on the sandy bottom just yards from the shoreline.
The smallest whale in the Northern Hemisphere, the Minke Whales we see are typically the size of our boat, from 20 to 25 feet long. They can be spotted year around, and feed on krill and anchovies. While they have a reputation for being shy and hard to track, sometimes they will make jumps or come to investigate the boat. Just another whale species to check off your list, at times abundant here off the Orange County coast.
What about the exotics?
In addition to the above described animals, we also have seen on our tours some rarer visitors!
Can appear at any time! Most sightings occur November through March. There are three different sub-groups that are seen off Southern California: Transients from Nor Cal, Offshores from deep water, and Eastern Tropical Pacifics from Mexico.
Prefer warmer water, August-October typically hold sightings.
False Killer Whales
ALWAYS in the Spring. Late March through mid-April. Like clockwork!
Any time of year, when their food is here (squid).
Warm water in June through August, mostly sighted during El Nino years.
So why exactly does Newport Beach offer some of the best whale watching in California?
The Newport Beach coastline is situated at an ideal location for whale and dolphin activity. While a visitor to our shores might look out on the ocean and see one contiguous mass of water, our whale watching captains are looking at the contours of the ocean floor and the currents that orchestrate the feeding and migration of these animals to our waters. The below image from GoogleEarth shows the Newport Canyon, a deep-water area very close to shore that attracts a variety of feeding marine mammals. Just two miles from the mouth of Newport Beach Harbor the water is already over 1,000 feet deep. Contrast this with San Diego, where you would have to travel 8 miles to reach the same depth. And many places off the East Coast of the United States require you to travel 30 or more miles from shore!
As the ocean currents interact with the dramatic change in water depth close to shore, the phenomena of “upwelling” is produced, stirring water from the depths to the surface. This mixing of water causes blooms of plankton, which form the foundation for ocean food chains. Krill and anchovies feed on plankton, in turn bringing their predators, whales and dolphins to the area. There are only a few places along the coast of California where the bottom of the seafloor rises so quickly so close to shore; this feature along the coast of Newport Beach makes it a very convenient and easy place for whale watching.