Tag Archives: migration

gray whales monterey

Gray Whales, Dolphins, Sea Birds

Sunday, February 12, 2017: Today we were able to catch up with 2 adult southbound gray whales, that allowed us to watch them surface and dive many times, treating the crowd to close looks and several tail flukes! Along the way we spotted Risso’s dolphins, numerous sea otters and sea lions, and a variety of seabirds in winter plumage! As we were nearing the harbor, we spotted a third gray whale, on its way north. A beautiful, crystal clear day to view some of California’s unique marine wildlife!

Thank you to everyone who visited our booth at the Migration Festival this weekend, and a special thanks to Natural Bridges State Park for hosting. We look forward to having you out on a whale watching trip!


Pelican, Santa Cruz, CA | photo courtesy Luv Kothari

Winter Wildlife, Migration Festival

  • Celebrate Winter Wildlife in Santa Cruz County
  • Migration Festival, Saturday, February 11, 2017

Come visit us at the Migration Festival at Natural Bridges State Park and enter to win a Free Whale Watching Trip!

*Saturday, February 11 from 11 AM to 4 PM
*End of West Cliff Dr. at Swanton Blvd., Santa Cruz, California 95060

Come to Natural Bridges State Beach for a full day of activities that celebrate the migration of whales, butterflies, birds and the many creatures that travel. The park will host migratory animal talks, active kids’ games, crafts, skits, live music by the nature-loving 5M’s Band, educational booths and displays, along with the now-famous free habitat-cake served at the end of the event. You can purchase a picnic at the park or bring your own. Event is free; vehicle day-use fee is $10. For more information, please call (831) 423-4609 or email NaturalBridgesStateBeach@gmail.com.
Facebook Event Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/150443888786351/


Fall-Winter Sightings

We loved having so many family groups out on the boat this week. Each day of Thanksgiving week we got some great views of 10-20 humpback whales that are active in Monterey Bay right now. These humpback whales are feeding and showing surface behaviors such as tail slaps and breaching above the water.  We’re getting to see big pods of common dolphins, otters in the kelp beds, and California sea lions. Our cover photo is from passenger Matija Vižin, taken on Tuesday 11/22 when we saw 10 humpback whales – one full breach! – Good looks, lots of flukes.

We’ve had a certain population of humpbacks staying around over winter for the last several years. As long as they are able to eat they will stay in  the area instead of participating in migration to Central America.

We’ll soon be keeping an eye out for gray whales migrating south towards their winter mating/calving waters in Baja, Mexico. Over 20,000 gray whales pass through Monterey Bay every year!

Santa Cruz Whale Watching Trips run every weekend in December, and DAILY from December 23 – New Year’s Day. Join us for adventure on the Bay!

Tickets are $48.95 for adults and $34.95 for kids age 4-13. Reservations recommended; Call 831-427-0230 or click the link to Book Online Now.

Gray whale, Spring migration, Monterey Bay, 3/23/16. photo Michael Nelson

Albatross, Gray and Humpback Whales

Saturday, April 2: Today the fog burned off early and we set off on board Velocity to see what wildlife we could find in Monterey Bay!
We saw

Four gray whales – 2 pairs — near Santa Cruz
One Black-footed albatross (archive photo John Bruckman)
One humpback whale that was lunge feeding, showing lots of surface behavior: horizontal, vertical lunges and rolling around near to the boat.
one tiny sunfish (mola-mola), and many harbor porpoises and otters.

ALBATROSS JUNE 2015 © john c. bruckman

ALBATROSS JUNE 2015 © john c. bruckman

winter gray whales

Gray Whale Migration

1/18/16 There are lots of gray whales migrating southbound along the Monterey Bay shoreline. Over the last week, large pods of dolphins and Orcas (killer whales) were also spotted in the bay. This is a good time for to see ocean birds, too, such as albatross, shearwaters, cormorants, brandts, loons and more!

Winter until the spring is Gray Whale season in Monterey Bay. The chance of sighting California Gray Whales cross Monterey Bay during this period is around 90% as they migrate from cold arctic waters to the warm Baja Peninsula.

20,000 California gray whales make their annual migration from Alaska to Baja California each winter

20,000 California gray whales make their annual migration from Alaska to Baja California each winter

gray whale

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

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

Gray Whale spy hop. Monterey Bay, with Santa Cruz Whale Watching. Photo: Michael Nelson

Migrating Gray Whales Put on a Show

Tuesday, March 17: For St Patrick’s Day we had really exciting showings from five gray whales migrating across Monterey Bay. We were able to observe a group of three gray whales for 45 minutes up the coast. The whales were exhibiting lots of behaviors we don’t always get to see from grays: chin slapping, spy-hops, a great show from gray whales. Then we saw two more gray whales breaching out of the water about 3 miles off the Santa Cruz coastline. We also had a super fun pod of long beaked common dolphins riding alongside the boat!

whale watching monterey

Long beaked common dolphins. Monterey Bay, with Santa Cruz Whale Watching. Photo: Michael Nelson


Twice every year over 20,000 gray whales pass through Monterey Bay waters off of Santa Cruz. The first time occurs from December through mid February when they are migrating south from the cold arctic waters of the Bering Sea to their winter calving grounds off of the Baja Peninsula. Then north again to their summer feeding grounds in the Bering Sea of Alaska. Northbound whales are usually traveling across Monterey Bay from mid February through April.

This 10,000+ mile round-trip is one of the longest migrations of any animal known. Peak northbound migration is around mid March. The gray whale can reach 45′ long. Females are usually larger than males. During their migration they are constantly traveling at 2-4 miles per hour. This can make for ideal viewing. Gray whales will sound (dive) for 2-5 minutes, sometimes longer. Their northern migration tends to be more social and leisurely. At times they can be spotted mating, breaching and “spy-hopping”.

Join us for year-round marine wildlife adventure! Next whale watching trips are Friday, March 20 at 11:00 AM, Saturday, March 21 at 12:00 PM and Sunday the 22nd at 10:00 AM. Spring Break Trips on offer, too! Whale watching trips run Monday, Wednesday and Friday next week.

See the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary with Santa Cruz Whale Watching!


Commitment to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Our main tour boat Velocity is now powered by brand new engines that meet the latest EPA standards in clean burning, fuel saving marine motors. These engines are quiet, no gassy smell, and fast!SC-WHALE-home


Gray whale migration Alaska to Baja, Mexico

Gray whale season is in full swing on Monterey Bay! Each year more than 20,000 gray whales pass through Monterey Bay waters during their annual migration between Alaska and Baja, Mexico. Keep an eye out as gray whales can often be seen from shore! This winter we have a small population of humpback whales who are either staying late or arriving early. Dolphins, sea lions, otters and birds make whale watching an amazing wildlife tour.

Gray whale, Santa Cruz Whale Watching, Monterey Bay. Photo: Teddy Daligga

Gray whale, Santa Cruz Whale Watching, Monterey Bay. Photo: Teddy Daligga

Notice: From January 5th thru February 5th our main vessel Velocity will be in the shipyard undergoing a complete re-powering. She will soon be powered by engines that meet the latest EPA standards in clean burning, fuel saving marine motors.

Meanwhile we will have our smaller 6-pack charter vessel Sea Stag Six available for whale watching trips in January. The Sea Stag offers small-group and private charters to see the gray whale migration. Our on-board naturalist and captain take you to the best wildlife viewing locations! SEA STAG TRIPS AND TICKETS


Tickets are available on Velocity for trips February 13th and beyond. CLICK HERE FOR WHALE WATCHING TICKETS

Humpback whale lunge feeding, showing baleen. Santa Cruz Whale Watching archive photo courtesy Peter Bodin, April 2013.

Happy New Year! Humpback whales remain active in Monterey Bay

Happy New Year! Even in late December the humpback whales are still populous in Monterey Bay. Whales are feeding on krill and anchovies out near Moss Landing and over the deep waters at the Monterey Canyon. We’ve been spotting multiple humpback whales each trip!

Migration: We are also now seeing gray whales heading south to their winter breeding & calving grounds in Baja California. Over 10,000 gray whales will pass through our waters this winter as they make the trek south to Baja then back north again in early spring.


Pacific Gray Whale Migration, Alaska to Baja California – Map

For now in Monterey Bay we continue to enjoy the antics of the lingering – and hungry – humpback whales.

Friday, December 26: We saw about 6 humpback whales and also several gray whales on their southbound migration between Alaska and Baja California.

Saturday, December 27: A terrific lunge feeding event in the middle of Monterey Bay. We counted about 30 humpback whales, with a fair amount of close “drive-bys” for amazing looks at the animals.

Tuesday, December 30: A windy day out there, but wonderful sights of the humpback whales lunge feeding. The animals were feeding particularly close by the boat, giving passengers the opportunity to see lunge feeding from the perfect angles, great views of the whale “tongue” and baleen filters.


Introducing our six passenger boat, Sea Stag Six, also available for private, smaller tours.

Happy New Year from all of us at Santa Cruz Whale Watching! We hope to see you soon on board Velocity, or the Sea Stag Six!

humpback whale breach monterey bay

Winter humpbacks, dolphins and gray whales

Saturday, December 20, 2014: Whale Watching on Velocity we saw 15 humpback whales! The whales were breaching, pec slapping, tail throws… Amazing activity!

Sunday, December 21, 2014: We saw 6 humpback whales and around 200 common dolphins! Clear water allowed to see them under the boat as they rode alongside. Then at the end of the trip a small humpback breached by the boat countless times!

Common Dolphins bow riding alongside Velocity. Monterey Bay, CA Photo: Michael Nelson

Common Dolphins bow riding alongside Velocity. Monterey Bay, CA Photo: Michael Nelson

Tuesday, December 23, 2014: A variety of species today! We saw 4 gray whales and 9 humpback whales. The sun was shining for us today on the 3rd day of winter!

Join us on the beautiful Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary – Fully narrated 3-4 hour whale watching trips depart out of the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor aboard our 60 foot passenger yacht “Velocity.”


Dan Haifley, Our Ocean Backyard: California gray whales now passing through our waters

Whale Watching Monterey California – Monterey CA Whale Watching

Whale Watching Monterey California

By Dan Haifley
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted:   02/01/2013 02:04:20 PM PST

California gray whales are gliding through Central Coast waters on their 5,000 to 6,000 mile trek from their feeding grounds around Alaska’s Bering Sea south to where they rest, breed and give birth in warmer Mexico.

The end of January was the peak of their southward migration although they’re still coming and soon they’ll be heading back our way on their return trip north.

Since December, groups of up to 10 have been spotted at the edge of the Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon while individuals or pairs have been seen closer to shore. They’re best observed from a boat piloted by an experienced whale watching captain and crew.

“Seeing these animals is something that everyone should experience,” said Kenny Stagnaro, owner and skipper of the vessel Velocity, which frequently passes in and out of the Santa Cruz harbor channel for whale watching trips. “They are truly amazing creatures.”

Their southern destinations are warm Baja California waters where females give birth, then nurse and nurture their young. They include but aren’t limited to Laguna San Ignacio, Laguna Guerrero Negro, Laguna Ojo de Liebre and Magdalena Bay.

Mating usually occurs there but it can also happen during their migration south. The gestation period of the gray whale is about a year. Calves are born live at around 15 feet long and 1,500 pounds. They put on weight and grow as they nurse on mother’s milk, more than half of which is fat.

Around the middle of February, the California gray whales head north for summer feeding off Alaska. They primarily feed 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 look like a kind of shrimp under a microscope. If they need nourishment during their migration they forage in the mud, sand and silt at ocean’s bottom, unlike other baleen whales that skim the surface or gulp food in the water column.

The best period for viewing the northward migration is February through May. This leg of their journey tends to be 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 very busy in both directions as the southern and northern migrations coincide during February, although the southbound whales travel further offshore than the northbound ones do.

They travel from a sea with a water temperature of 38 degrees to lagoons that are 70 degrees. When they leave Alaska they can have 6 to 8 inches of blubber to sustain them on journey. By the time they return they have just 2-3 inches of blubber left. Mothers need more, said Stagnaro, to nurse their young on the trip north.

Their population is a little more than 20,000, an increase from previous years. At maturity, they can be up to 50 feet long and weight up to 40 tons. Some whales can live to be 80 years old.

Observers remark that gray whales are less charismatic than others. That may be true while they are here, but they become animated while feeding off Alaska. While some can be friendly to humans in Baja California, the whales are not as approachable during mating and birthing.

Because the sea off California is their thoroughfare and not a café or playground, grays do not display the personality here that Orcas or Humpbacks do. 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.

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


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