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Price Buster Special Event

  1. Groupon Price Buster!
    We will beat the lowest advertised whale watching price for any 3+ hours Monterey Bay Whale Watching tour! Use coupon code GPBUSTER to purchase tickets online now for $33.00 each kids/adults.
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Call our Santa Cruz Ticket Office 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM daily for more information. We will beat any current advertised price for any 3+ hours Monterey Bay Whale Watching tour.

CALL 831-427-0230


Subject to availability ~ Limited Time Offer ~ Restrictions apply

*** Groupon Price Buster rate is not valid Spring Break: April 1, 2017 thru April 16, 2017.



Orca Monterey Bay 8-28-15
Photo: Michael Nelson

Humpbacks and Orca thrill on Monterey Bay

It’s been an active week on Monterey Bay with large groups of humpback whales lunge feeding on schools of anchovies, along with common dolphins, sea lions, birds, and a special encounter with orca! Here’s a recap of this week’s sightings with Santa Cruz Whale Watching tours.

Tuesday, Aug 25
Groups of 8-10 humpback whales lunge feeding repeatedly for over 2 hours! We had a pod of common dolphins mixed in with the whales. The dolphins were swimming with the boat alongside sea lions, and many feeding birds. One of the humpback whales was rolling around in the bait ball, showing off belly and ventral pleats—creases that run vertically down the underside of a whale’s jaw all the way to its stomach. When feeding, the ventral pleats expand like an accordion to accommodate a huge amount of food-rich water.

Thursday, Aug 27
We found a group of 3-4 humpback whales that were particularly friendly among more whales spread out across the bay. These animals were “lazy” feeding at the surface – one would just poke his snout out with a mouthful of anchovies, then slowing descend back down… We had more common dolphins that stayed with the boat all day! As we were starting to head back to Santa Cruz Harbor, we were intercepted by a single humpback whale doing tail throws and then several minutes of tail slaps!

Friday, Aug 28
Oh boy! On Friday there were more humpbacks sighted, “lazy” feeding on the abundant anchovies as before, but today’s whale watchers had a special treat with a group of four Orcas! There were two males accompanying a mother/calf pair. The orcas even spent a few minutes near to the boat, swimming under the boat in clear conditions – you could see them under the water! One passenger reported feeling the spray from their blowhole!

Orca Monterey Bay 8-28-15 Photo: Michael Nelson

Orca Monterey Bay 8-28-15
Photo: Michael Nelson

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Orca photos courtesy Michael B. Nelson

Don’t Miss the new PBS special “BIG BLUE LIVE” airing Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday on your local PBS station. It’s all about the amazing wildlife and ecosystems of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary that we get to enjoy every day! Tune in then come out with us on our beautiful boat Velocity!  BUY TICKETS HERE

Humpbacvk whale visits passengers on board Velocity, with Santa Cruz Whale Watching

Humpback whale visits passengers on board Velocity, with Santa Cruz Whale Watching

The show goes on: Whales, birds, dolphins still drawing crowds

Whales, birds, dolphins still drawing crowds
By Jason Hoppin @scnewsdude on Twitter
Posted:   08/14/2014 04:01:16 PM PDT2 Comments

MOSS LANDING >> The music may have stopped, but the show never really ends.

Humpback whales aren’t getting the same worldwide attention as a few weeks ago, when they practically seemed to be knocking on the doors of beachfront homes. Lunchtime gawkers at the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf got an eyeful, as did visitors to Moss Landing State Beach, where the whales came close enough to shore that they seemed eye-to-eye with beachgoers, including a few confused dogs and horses.

But they’re still out there, in abundance, entertaining visitors from across the globe.

“It was amazing because at one moment you don’t know where to see, there’s a lot to look at,” said Laetitia David, who lives outside Versailles, France, and is touring the western U.S. with her husband, Alain.

The couple took a tour this week with Moss Landing-based Sanctuary Cruises, one of several whale-watching boats operating out of the region that have been teeming with passengers.

The giant schools of anchovies that seem to yawn from shore out to the horizon have dissipated, a phenomenon that drew more whales but that seems to have been punctuated by the unfortunately stinky harbor die-off in Santa Cruz.

There are always more visitors to Monterey Bay, and last weekend Monterey Bay Whale Watch’s posted pictures of killer whales leaping out of the water in its Facebook page. Of course, birds, seals and dolphins can always be found in abundance.

You might even see another rarity of you’re near the water these days – surfers without wetsuits. Water temperatures at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Monterey Bay buoy are in the mid-60s this week, well above normal even for late summer.

And that buoy is 30 miles offshore. Near-shore temps are certain to be higher, all the result of calm skies that have ground to a halt the phenomenon known as upwelling, where winds churn ocean waters, bringing cooler, nutrient-rich deep sea water to the surface.

“It’s just a lack of northwest wind, which gives us upwelling along the coast,” National Weather Service forecaster Steve Anderson said. “The cold water isn’t coming to the surface, which allows the water temperature to warm up.”

The warm water has nothing to do with El Niño, Anderson stressed.

Santa Cruz Whale Watching’s Ken Stagnaro said the lack of upwelling have kept the krill counts low, which could be why there haven’t been reports of blue whales so far.

But Stagnaro said there’s still plenty to see on the water. “We had sightings of killer whales feeding on a sea lion a few days ago,” Stagnaro said.

The show must go on, after all.


John Warren, 2012

Rare Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtles Spotted in Monterey Bay


Santa Cruz Patch
Maria Grusauskas
, July 26, 2012

Last week, passengers on a Santa Cruz Whale Watching boat got to see a rare and special site: a Pacific leatherback sea turtle feeding on a brown sea nettle, or jelly fish.

According to local marine biologist, Dr. Wallace J Nichols, the leather back in the picture appears to be around 1,000 pounds.

“I’d say it looks like it’s healthy and eating well! The leatherbacks encountered in our bay are usually nice and fat, ready for the long swim back to Indonesia,” said Dr. Nichols.

The leatherbacks seen in local waters travel around 6,000 miles to feed off the coast of California, migrating from Indonesia where they nest.

The chances of seeing the endangered leatherbacks in our backyard may be on the rise in the coming weeks, according to Nichols, who says they typically migrate up the coast during midsummer through fall.

There were other reports last week of leatherback sitings in the waters around Monterey, Moss Landing and Half Moon Bay, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The sea turtles appear to following a bloom of jelly fish, their number one food source, north through the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

“I think that most people don’t realize that we have leatherback turtles in the bay that come from Indonesia, and it’s nice to highlight that,” said Wallace J Nichols, just after seeing the two interactive sea turtle exhibits at Santa Cruz’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary  on Monday.

Nichols is on the board of the Turtle Island Restoration Network, an advocacy group working to protect endangered marine life, and he’s also on the board of Save Our Shores, the local nonprofit group largely responsible for getting single use plastic bags banned in the Santa Cruz County.

Plastic bags are known to be regularly injested by sea turtles mistaking them for their favorite food: jellies. In fact its very hard even for a human being to tell the difference between a jelly and a plastic bag floating underwater.

The leatherback turtle has been listed as an endangered species since 1970, and some researchers estimate that their population has declined 95 percent over the last 25 years.

According to researchers at Turtle Island Restoration Network, they could disappear completely in the next 5 – 30 years, even though they have survived unchanged for over 100 million years.

The declining numbers of leatherbacks are largely due to poaching, entanglement in shrimp nets or long line hooks, destruction of nesting beaches, pollution and plastic debris in the ocean. Rising sea levels are also impacting nesting beaches and the food resources of sea turtles, according to researchers at Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Leatherback Photo Credit: John Warren, courtesy of Captain Ken Stagnaro,

monterey whale watching

Santa Cruz among best whale watching on the California coast!

NOAA marks the best whale watching sites on coast
Monterey Bay topping the list for activity

May 07, 2014
MONTEREY, Calif. – NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and The Whale Trail announced new coastal sites in California where the public can view orcas and other marine mammals from shore, like the Monterey Bay.

Viewing sites near San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Monterey will be established and outfitted with interpretative signs describing the types of whales and other wildlife that can be seen at each location as well as information about the area’s distinguishing characteristics.

The sites will be added to the Whale Trail website.

The inaugural viewing sites include Point Reyes, Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz, and Point Lobos State Reserve in Monterey County. Additionally, the Crissy Field visitor center for Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s (MBNMS) Exploration Center in Santa Cruz, and MBNMS Coastal Discover Center in San Simeon will also be added to the Whale Trail website as venues where the public can learn about whales and other marine mammals.

This year has been a particularly good one for whale activity, and whale-watching companies say they are doing quite well this year.

Article source:

Rare finds in Monterey Bay!

Sunday March 23,2014: On Sunday Santa Cruz Whale Watching had a rare and very special trip on Monterey Bay! We followed a pair of Humpbacks and a Gray whale swimming together! Our Naturalist had never seen this behavior before. We saw a Humpback breaching! Another rare sight was a “Megapod” of a thousand plus Risso’s dolphins. They were literally stretching out for over a mile! An awesome sight!
Monday March 24, 2014: We were only a 1/2 mile out of Santa Cruz when we spotted our first whale! It was a young gray. We then headed to outer Monterey Bay where we had another incredible encounter with two humpback whales. They got friendly with the boat, swimming right under us while adrift and looking up at the people. We also got to see several breaches and spectacular tail throws!! It was another special day on Monterey Bay!
On Friday March 21, 2014: we enjoyed 5 Gray Whales in Monterey Bay and dozens of Otters in Santa Cruz.
Saturday March 22, 2014: On Saturday we saw a couple of Humpback Whales and a Gray Whale. A wonderful 4 days of Whale Watching on Monterey Bay!!!

CBS Evening News rides along with Santa Cruz Whale Watching

A few years back we hosted John Blackstone and his CBS News crew on board Velocity. This video features amazing footage of friendly humpback whales curious about our boat and tourists. Captain Ken Stagnaro and our naturalist Maureen Gilbert give us some great insight into the habits of Monterey Bay wildlife.

Humpback whales return each spring to their feeding grounds in Monterey Bay and remain in our local waters through November, sometimes longer! Year-round whale watching tours depart from the Santa Cruz Yacht harbor to see whales, dolphins, seals and otters, and more.  As Maureen says, “You are never the same after you see a whale in the wild.”

Gray Whale, Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz. Photo: Teddy Daligga. January 15, 2012 (Stagnaro archive)

Dan Haifley, Our Ocean Backyard: Gray whale time

By Dan Haifley

Special to the Sentinel
POSTED:   01/03/2014 03:53:13 PM PST

The year 2013 saw an unusually busy humpback whale season on Monterey Bay, driven by the upwelling of nutrient-laden waters feeding plankton, krill, anchovies and other small fish which attracted them.

While there are still humpbacks in the bay, California gray whales have begun their twice-a-year glide through Central Coast waters as they first head south to where they rest, breed and give birth in warmer Mexico, then return north to their feeding grounds off Alaska.

Gray whales were first spotted migrating through Monterey Bay in December. They’re best observed from a boat run by an experienced whale watching captain and crew. Ken Stagnaro, who owns the Velocity that takes guided whale tours out of the Santa Cruz Harbor, says that while humpbacks are more animated when they visit the Monterey Bay to feed, the grays use the central coast as a thoroughfare and stay focused on their long trek. But their speed and force is constant, said Stagnaro, so finding and following them is easier. “They are very majestic to watch, especially when they breech,” he says.

Their southern destinations are balmy Baja California waters where females can mate, give birth, then nurse and nurture their young at spots including Laguna San Ignacio, Laguna Guerrero Negro, Laguna Ojo de Liebre and Magdalena Bay. Mating can also happen during their southern migration. While they can sometimes be friendly to humans in Baja California, they’re not as approachable during mating and birthing.

Their gestation period is about a year after which calves are born live, most at around 15 feet in length and weighing 1,500 pounds. They put on weight and grow as they nurse on mother’s milk, more than half of which is fat. They can ultimately grow up to 50 feet, weigh as much as 40 tons and live 80 years. Their population is believed to be as high as 22,000, up from previous years.

Around the middle of February, they head north to Alaska for their summer feeding, primarily on a small crustacean called “amphipod macrocephela” which is nourished by algae that drops from sea ice in the Bering and Chukchi seas. They’ll also eat smaller amphipods, which can look like a type of shrimp under a microscope. If they do need to eat during their migration they’ll forage in the sea floor’s mud, sand and silt.

The best period for viewing the northward migration is February through May. This portion of their journey is more social and leisurely than the southbound trip. Mothers and calves can be spotted in April and May, and sometimes they travel close enough to shore that they can be seen from high points along the coast.

Their coastal highway gets busy as the southern and northern migrations coincide during February, although the southbound whales travel further offshore than the northbound ones do. They travel from 38 degree waters to those that are a balmier 70 degrees. When they leave Alaska they can have up to 8 inches of blubber to sustain them on journey and when they return they have just 2 to 3 inches left. Mothers need more, said Stagnaro, to nurse their young on the trip north.

You can see them as they perform their annual ritual — now as they head south, and later if you want to see them head north.

Dan Haifley is executive director of O’Neill Sea Odyssey. He can be reached at

Year of the Whale: 2013 brought a marine show unlike any other

By Jason Hoppin
Santa Cruz Sentinel
POSTED:   12/28/2013

MOSS LANDING.– Just when you think nature couldn’t impress you more, something like 2013 happens.

This was year the Monterey Bay turned the dial up to 11, producing a months-long carnival of lunging humpback whales, bird clouds, dolphin wizardry, frenzied sea lions, playful killer whales and even visits from marine royalty — blue whales.

“Best year I’ve ever seen and best year anybody’s seen that I’ve talked to,” said Giancarlo Thomae, a 25-year-old UC Santa Cruz graduate whose near-daily forays onto the bay, by boat or kayak, helped document Mother Nature’s best production in a long time.

The wildlife display on Monterey Bay was selected by Sentinel staff as a top newsmaker in 2013.

The true stars were hundreds of humpback whales that lingered for months in the northeast part of the bay, with some here even still. People crammed tour boats, hopped on paddleboards and leaned out over wharf railings for a glimpse, and were almost universally rewarded with one.

The spectacle was due to the presence of huge numbers of anchovies, epic schools that boat captains said would go on for miles. Their numbers were such that a school even rushed in to the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor, leading to an October die-off that fouled the air for weeks.

Why the anchovies? People cited a healthier ocean, a lack of sardines or predators such as salmon and a cool-water cycle coupled with normal upwelling of nutrients from the underwater Monterey Canyon.

“The canyon is just basically a big giant doorway to the open ocean, and it’s right here on our doorstep. That’s what makes it so special,” said Ken Stagnaro of Santa Cruz Whale Watching. “We’re pretty lucky to be here. You get these animals up and down the coast, but not really condensed like this.”

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, first-hand looks at marine life began to rival the interpretive exhibits, the open sea becoming an attraction alongside jellyfish and kelp forests. Guests flocked to an outdoor pavilion for a look at birds, sea otters and especially abundant whales.

“We have a new interpretive station at the Aquarium. We call it ‘Today on the Bay.’ A lot of us said one of the best exhibits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the Monterey Bay itself,” said Jim Covel, director of guest experience training and interpretation. “We’ve got a front-row seat here.”

Photographers such as Thomae and Bonny Doon’s Jodi Frediani procured amazing shots of the activity. Through the Internet and social media, word spread and the photos became apertures into life on the water, a rabbit hole through which the whole world seemed to want to jump.

“Let’s put it this way: before all this happened, there were times when we barely had enough people to go out. It really blew up,” said Thomae, who worked for Sanctuary Cruises Whale Watching this summer. “We had people calling us from Hong Kong, Sydney, all over the world, saying, ‘Oh the whales are thick? I want to go.'”

One Thomae photo showing a local kayak guide, Karen Hatch, framed by the body of a whale went viral. It was featured everywhere from CBS’ “This Morning” to the German news magazine Der Speigel.

Despite widespread TV coverage, tour captains say the biggest impact came when the most traditional of all media, The New York Times, weighed in. The newspaper produced a popular multimedia story on Monterey Bay.

“You know what? Hands down, nothing got the response like when the New York Times article came out,” Stagnaro said. “The phones just went crazy.”

Once near extinction, humpbacks are a species on the rebound. That is one reason Stagnaro thinks they’re here to stay year-round, as long as there’s enough food.

“I don’t expect it to change anytime soon,” he said.

Even around Christmas, the show continued. Normal patterns of migratory grey whales are coming through, but several humpbacks remain in the bay, along with a handful of killer whales.

“Weather permitting, you could see whales for pretty much 365 days in the Monterey Bay during the year,” Thomae said.