Posted: Thursday, Mar 21st, 2019
What You Need to Know About Whale Watching off Ventura
Featured image by J Sanchez
(And a Little Romance Advice to Boot)
It’s world-class whale watching, without a doubt. You never know what you’ll see in the waters off Ventura’s coast — Nature isn’t a Disney exhibit — and that mystery is part of the thrill and the joy. But here’s a rock-solid fact: the waters of the Santa Barbara Channel and the (protected) Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary are filled with life, much of it very, very large, and, quite possibly, very, very life-changing. Because when anticipation collides with reality and some of the largest creatures on this planet roil to the surface (and sometimes leap free of it.)
The result is as stunning as a glimpse of Hollywood humility and as subtle as already disappearing blowhole mists.
The Whale Basics
Over 28 species of whales and dolphins inhabit the waters of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Depending on the time of year it’s possible to see (deep breath) Gray Whales, Humpback Whales, Blue Whales, Fin Whales, Pilot Whales, Minke Whales, and Orca Whales, not to mention Common Dolphin, Risso’s Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Pacific White Sided Dolphin and Dall’s Porpoise (because bigger isn’t necessarily better).
From roughly mid-December through mid-April, Pacific Gray Whales migrate through our waters, swimming down from Alaska on their way to Baja California, Mexico. From mid-February through May, the Pacific Gray Whales are migrating north again, swimming up from their calving grounds in Baja and back to their feeding grounds off Alaska.
Blue Whales and Humpback Whales were once a rare sight in the waters off Ventura, but now, from roughly June through mid-September, they’re not. Again nothing is guaranteed, but often Blues and Humpbacks can be seen as they feed on floods of nutrient-rich krill, brought up from the deeps by upwelling currents.(Make note: finding Blue and Humpback whales often require a longer boat ride because these whales are often farther off the coast. Island Packers’ Blue and Humpback whale watching trips are 5-6 hours; their Pacific Gray Whale trip are 3-3.5 hours)
Orca Whale pods can be seen in any season (worth the trip alone; these highly intelligent animals can live more than 100 years). The many species of dolphin can also be seen in any season, and, if you’re truly lucky, you’ll see their infants too, some just slightly larger than an overinflated football, bursting from the water to execute the same perfect scimitar leaps as their elders.
Reminding us that there is magic in this world.
A Few Fun Facts to Further Your Sense of Awe
Gray Whales have one of the longest yearly migrations of any mammal; up to 10,000 miles round trip.
The Blue Whale isn’t just the biggest whale living today; it’s the largest animal that has ever lived on Earth (yep, bigger than any dinosaur). Blue whales commonly reach a length of 95 feet. Their major arteries and veins are so large that a small child can pass through them. Blue Whales enter this world impressively. A newborn is roughly 20-26 feet long and weighs up to 6,600 pounds. They’re hungry too. They drink about 225 liters (about enough to fill a bath) of Mom’s fat-laden milk a day, gaining about ten pounds an hour, the fastest growth rate of any creature on Earth.
The haunting songs of male Humpback Whales are complex and always evolving. The sounds they sing span seven octaves, nearly the entire range of a piano. During the winter mating season, they repeat their songs for hours at a time, hoping to find a mate. Not only do the males change their songs as the breeding season unfolds, but each year they produce a new song. Perhaps something other species can learn from.
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