We are lucky to have so much marine life bringing splashes and adventure to the waters off Ventura’s coast. Year-round visitors are greeted by dolphins, sea lions, and harbor seals, but it is the whales that often spark the most excitement. Depending on the season, there are six types of whales that may be spotted wandering around Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary. Gray whales visit Ventura from mid-December until mid-April, while Blue and Humpback whales stop by mid-June to mid-September. Orcas, Minke and Fin whales are less predictable but always a welcome sight. Learn more about Ventura’s visiting whales below and what makes each one unique!
Adult Gray whales average 35 to 45 feet in length, the same length as a school bus. They acquired their name from the gray patches and white mottling on their skin. Their “pectoral fins” (flippers) are broad, paddle-shaped, and pointed at the tips. Lacking a dorsal fin, they instead have a “dorsal hump” located about two-thirds of the way back on the body, and a series of 8-14 small bumps, known as “knuckles,” between the dorsal hump and the tail flukes. Gray whales are speculated to live as long as 80 years old.
Newborn humpback whales measure 15 feet long and adult Humpbacks can grow to measure up to 60 feet! They are known for their long pectoral fins with such unique coloration, they allow scientists to identify individual whales, similar to a human fingerprint. Humpbacks are dark gray or even black in color and breathe air at the surface of the water through two blowholes that can spray up to 10-13 feet above the surface of the water. They can often be seen breaching, or propelling almost their entire body out of the water – spinning around and landing on their back or side. They are also known to sing long, loud complex songs.
Blue whales are the largest mammals on earth. These whales can reach lengths of 75 to 85 feet and weigh as much as 240,000 pounds -more than the weight of a space shuttle! Blue whales are blue-gray in color and have darker spots along the sides of their body, with barnacles on their flukes. They feed on small shrimp-like crustaceans, consuming up to eight tons of them each feeding period. Blue whales also produced the loudest sound ever recorded from an animal and scientists speculate they are able to remain in touch with each other over hundreds of miles.
Spring time brings the largest member of the dolphin family to Ventura’s coast; Orcas, or pandas of the sea. Their black and white pattern is unmistakable with a white eye patch, a white patch extending from their underside up their sides, and a gray “saddle patch” behind their dorsal fin. Keep an eye out for these 20-32 foot-long mammals most commonly spotted during the Gray whale migration preying on Gray whale calves.
Minke whales, also known as the Little Piked Whales, are the smallest baleen whale at 23 to 33 feet. They are dark gray to black with white bands on the top of their small pectoral fins sometimes called “white mittens.” They may also have a pale gray chevron, or swirling pattern, on their back, and they have a prominent falcate dorsal fin. Minkes spend relatively little time at the surface, and because their blow is rarely visible they are often hidden in a choppy sea.
Known as the second largest mammals in the world next to blue whales, fin whales have a distinct ridge along their back behind the dorsal fin. This ridge is the reason behind their nickname, “razorback.” Despite their large size, the fin whale is relatively slender and streamlined, allowing it to reach speeds of over 25 miles per hour for short periods of time. They are a brownish gray color with a pale off-white underside.