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San Diego Whale Watching Season Off to a Great Start

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Humpback Whales being seen on San Diego Whale Watching Cruises on Hornblower





Photos by Ken Shelby, captured these great images of a breaching Humpback Whale just off Mission Bay from the rails of Hornblower on their recent whale watching cruise. Mr Shelby is a frequent cruiser aboard Hornblower Cruises Whale Watching Cruise because he is one of the trained Naturalist from San Diego Natural History Museum. Ken said that this whale breached about

This time of year, Hornblower Cruises sees a variety of whales on their whale watching cruises. In addition to Gray whales, humpback whales, Minke whales, fin back whales and Blue Whales are seen. The Gray Whale watching season ends on April 27th as the last of the migrating mammals travel by the San Diego coast.

Blue Whale watching season will begin on July 5th on Hornblower Cruises. Click to buy a season pass or just a one day admission for this exciting new  cruise being offered by Hornblower Cruises!



San Diego Whale Watching Report for 4/3-present




Whale Watching Report for April 3- April 10


Morning Cruise

Afternoon Cruise



2 fin whales, 200 common dolphins


  During a cool and overcast morning the Captain cruised our about 9 miles viewing 2 fin whales and common dolphins.


4 fin whales, 1 mom & calf gray whale, 200 common dolphins

2 gray whales, and 1 juvenile gray whale

  Great views all day with a mom and calf gray whale and about 200 common dolphins. Guests said they have lots of fun.  The whale sightings were up close and personal with 2 juvenile and 2 adult gray whales.


1 minke whales, 60 bottlenose dolphins, mother and calf gray whale

2 gray whales, 40-60 bottlenose dolphins

The Captain took out our guest to the 9 mile bank for a peek at the elusive minke whale, and then a mother gray whale and her calf were seen at the kelp beds. Two juvenile gray whales then northwest 2 more gray whales were spotted plus bottlenose dolphins.


1 minke, 30 bottlenose dolphins

2 gray whales, 200 dolphins

 The trip was extra special due to guests were able to see “Patches” the spotted dolphin that has been seen along the coast. Guests were thrilled and had wonderful views. Two gray whales came out to play, plus 2000 common dolphins.

500 common dolphins

200 common dolphins

  The dolphins were the star of the show for the day with a total of 500 common dolphins. Guests gave many compliments on the narration.*whalechecks


3 gray whales,800-100 common dolphins

40 bottlenose dolphins, 2500 common dolphins.

Guests witnessed mating, rolling and breaching of 3 gray whales, plus many dolphins during clear weather. 2500 common dolphins came out and gave a great show with about 40 bottlenose dolphins in the mix.


500 common dolphins

1 fin whale

The total on the trips for the day included a Gray whale mom and her calf plus one fin whale and about 500 common dolphins


Reoccuring Sightings of Semi-famous Mottled Dolphin Named “Patches” from Adventure Hornblower (see Patches captured by video on!

SD Natural History Museum Whalers and whale watching regulars like Mike Roerder (author of 1000 Whales in a Year) are out on cruises enough to spot reoccurring animals.  The “regulars” have spotted and photographed a mottled bottle nose dolphin and named him patches for obvious reasons! Diane Cullins wrote: “Went out on the Hornblower Adventure this morning…was so happy to see ‘Patches,’ the piebald bottlenose dolphin again…definitely one of a kind! Offshore bottlenose dolphins  are always a treat to see, as was the Minke whale, the smallest of the baleen whales we see off San Diego.”  

I asked Mike Roeder about Patches because he has been on board Hornblower hundreds of times in doing research for his book One Thousand Whales in a Year.  He said Patches’ “piebald” looks makes her a bit of a dolphin celebrity! He pulled this from wikipedia:
piebald animal is one that has a spotting pattern of large unpigmented, usually white, areas of hair, feathers, or scales and normally pigmented patches, generally black. The colour of the animal’s skin underneath its coat is also pigmented under the dark patches and unpigmented under the white patches. This alternating colour pattern is irregular and asymmetrical. Animals reported with this pattern may include horsesdogsbirdscatspigs, and cattle, as well as snakes such as the ball python. Some animals also exhibit colouration of the irises of the eye that match the surrounding skin (blue eyes for pink skin, brown for dark). The underlying genetic cause is related to a condition known as leucism.
Leucism is a general term for defects in pigment cell differentiation and/or migration from the neural crest to skin, hair, or feathers during development. This results in patches of body surface (if only a subset are defective) lacking cells capable of making pigmentLeucism can cause a reduction in all types of pigment, in contrast to albinism, for which leucism is often mistaken. Albinism results in the reduction of melanin production only.  More common than a complete absence of pigment cells is localized or incomplete hypopigmentation, resulting in irregular patches of white on an animal that otherwise has normal colouring and patterning. This partial leucism is known as a “pied” or “piebald” effect; and the ratio of white to normal-coloured skin can vary considerably not only between generations, but between different offspring from the same parents, and even between members of the same litter. A further difference between albinism and leucism is in eye colour. Due to the lack of melanin production in both the retina and iris, albinos typically have red eyes. In contrast, most leucistic animals have normally coloured eyes. The cells in the eyes have an independent genetic origin, and they are typically unaffected by the genetic cause of leucism.
But I digress…As a consequence of her insecurity, Patches roams up and down the West Coast. Since “coming of age about 4-5 years ago, she has been seen in the company of both bottlenose AND (heaven forbid) common dolphin pods from San Diego to Santa Barbara. So she is thought to be a good communicator with all kinds of animals … and (like J.Lo) she loves to show off her backside.
According to the authoritative One Thousand Whales in a Year, Patches was first seen in 2013 off La Jolla on Aug 17th, 2013, then again on the 19th (page 60). She was with common dolphins.
At that time it was speculated that there were several like her and they had been seen around the West Coast. Or that her mother was “common” and her father “bottlenose”. Those are unfounded rumors. Since then, Diane Cullins (whaler) has forwarded photos of patches to an expert marine biologist friend who said that she is a unique specimen and all sighting are of her. 
Until the trip when the previously-shared photos were taken, Captain Bill from Hornblower Cruises & Events, San Diego, had only heard of her, but never seen her. Now he knows what we were always going on about.We next saw Patches on Oct 16th and 17th in a group of 100 bottlenose dolphins. She reappeared Oct 27th, Nov 3rd and Nov 9th with a similar sized group of bottlenose. Perhaps also in January 2014, but my records are incomplete…
Since she has apparently become a star, she’s become a bit elusive, but this week the paparazzi spotted her out cruising with her pals:
Mike Roeder, One Thousand Whales in a Year Author.

Patches by Diane Cullins DSC02555

San Diego Whale Watching Report through 4/2/14-Last month of Gray Whale Watching!

March 27– April 02


Morning Cruise

Afternoon Cruise





In morning some rain then in afternoon cool and clear


200+ common dolphins


Two elusive  minke whales were spotted plus  1 northbound gray whale in morning tripAfternoon trip was a very good show with 20-40 bottlenose dolphins in a feeding frenzy 


4 gray whales and 1500 common dolphins

3 gray whales

Great show for both trips during rough seas


1000 common dolphins. *whalechecks

Cancelled due to rough seas

Under warm clear light breeze the common dolphins gave a good show for our guests. Our guests gave lots of compliments on narration of migrating whales 


7 gray whales, 1 minke

3000 common dolphins

Whales in the distance were spotted plus guest were treated to ever popular common dolphins show



Fin whale, 50 bottlenose dolphins

Sighting of a rare Fin Whale swimming around the boat for about 45-60 minutes.  The Fin Whale was possibly a blue-fin hybrid juvenile.  Fins and blue whales have been known to interbreed.  We also saw 50 bottlenose dolphins swimming near the bow.




*whalechecks Weather conditions in San Diego included rain and wind that causes rough sea conditions for whale watching. Our Captain made good effort to seek out the whales for our guests. Highlight was seeing about 30 false killer whales.The weather conditions remaining the same, guests did see 1 whale in distance and a good look at elephant seal plus 20 white sided dolphins on the trip out.


Visit our Whale Report and Blog:
*If whale are not sighted during cruise you will receive a “whale check” good for another Whale and Dolphin Watching Adventure or Harbor Cruise
Thank you to Janet Morris, Director of Volunteers from the Natural History Museum who leads the valiant effort to recruit and train the fantastic volunteer “whalers” who interact with our guest everyday on the Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruises. Visit theNat at
Brian Slaughters kids on WWWhalers from the Nat whalers group from 2014 whalers whalers-group-from-2014


Whale Watching Report 3/20-3/26/14

March 20– March 26, 2014


Morning Cruise

Afternoon Cruise




minke whale, 4 gray whales

AM: West winds all day, clear visibility with rough seas.* guest received whale checks PM: Amazing trip! minke whale breached 12 times right by the boat for all the guests to see plus 4 full size northbound gray whales.


3 juvenile gray whales, 80-100 common dolphins

40-60 bottlenose dolphins

 AM: The Captain took guests out about 4 miles, a little cool and overcast all day our guests saw 3 juvenile gray whales with several breeching 4 times in a row very close to the boat plus 80-100 common dolphins coming to the boat. PM: Guests cruised with the Captain about 9 miles out to see 40-60 bottlenose dolphins riding the bow and wake waves. Awesome sight! 


5 gray whales, 25 bottlenose dolphins

4 gray whales

 AM: Under cool overcast skies our guests saw 5 gray whales and 25 bottlenose dolphins plus mola mola fish, which is a neat.PM: Afternoon trip included many 1st time whale watchers that mentioned they had a great time while they saw 4 fast moving gray whales with a lot of tail flukes.




3 gray whales, 6 gray dolphins


2 humpback cow and calf, 20 risso dolphins

 AM: Trip was well under clear skies plus during some lite chop while guests saw 3 gray dolphins and 6 common dolphins. PM:  The Crowd on this trip went wild with excitement when 1 humpback and her calf rubbed against the bow causing water to spray everyone in that area. However, the fun continued with breaches and simultaneous tail slaps, plus that is not all…. when coming back in 20 Rizzo dolphins were spotted.  


2 southbound gray whales

1 fin whale and 1 baby gray whale

 AM: Under clear skies our guests were able to see 2 southbound gray whales. PM: 1 Fin whale that appeared to be feeding in a big bait ball of krill. Must have been tasty!   guests on this cruise saw 1 juvenile gray whale that came close to boat. What a treat! 


1 gray whale, 80 bottlenose dolphins


1 gray whale, 1 fin whale

AM: Under clear calm seas our guests saw 1 gray whale and 80 bottlenose dolphins

 PM:  With weather remaining the same, 1 gray whale was spotted, plus 1 fin whale up close!



4 gray  whales, 1 fin whale, 7 bottlenose dolphins, 2 mola mola fish


2 southbound gray whales, 2 juveniles, common dolphins, bottlenose

AM: The Captain took our guests about 9 miles out to sea on a beautiful clear day our guests saw 4 gray whales and possible fin whale also with 7 bottlenose dolphins playing at the bow and 2 unique mola mola fish.

 PM: In the afternoon our Captain went out to about 4 miles with lots of activity delighting guests while they saw 2 southbound gray whales and 2 juvenile gray whales by the buoy. Lots of common dolphins, plus bottlenose dolphins, too.


*If whales are not sighted during your cruise you will receive a “whale check” good for another Hornblower Whale and Dolphin Watching Adventure or Harbor Cruise

Gray Whale Visits Hornblower Whale Watching Boat

On 3/21/14 First Officer Grant Boardman caught a nice view of a juvenile gray whale as it approached Adventure Hornblower. The whale approached the crowded whale watching boat, checked out the guests, paused for pictures, and then swam along on its way north off the San Diego Coast. Gray whales are finishing their migration past San Diego in March on their way back to Alaska for summer! Photo by Grant Boardman.

Gray whales have the longest known migration of any mammal. They travel 10,000-12,000 miles round trip every year between their winter calving lagoons in the warm waters of Mexico and their summer feeding grounds in the cold Arctic seas. Thanks to its nearshore migration route, we can observe the gray along its journey. Journey North reports the migration and timing from these Observation Posts and more. Click on this map to follow the whale trail!

To see the Migration Trail Click here!

San Diego Whale Watching Report 3/13-3/19/14

March 13– March 19


Morning Cruise

Afternoon Cruise



5 gray whales


3 gray whales, 2 fin whales, 200 common dolphins


AM: happy guests saw 5 gray whales among the blue water and clear weather.PM: 3 gray whales, 2 fin whales plus 200 common dolphins that played with us for about 45 minutes. Great day!





Whale watching cancelled due to rough sea 


4 gray whales. 200 common dolphins

4 gray whales, 200 bottlenose dolphins, 400 common dolphins

AM: 2 of the 4 gray whales played off the bow for 30 minutes. We stayed in neutral while the guests were treated to an amazing show, then another plus with 200 common dolphins as well.  PM: we had an amazing experience with 4 gray whales that were back floating, thrashing around and mating. One of the best days of the season! Top it off with the 200 bottlenose out deep with the whales and 400 common dolphins in between. 



3 gray whales, 1,000 common dolphins, 1 minke



4 gray whales, 50 common dolphins


AM: went out 6 miles with one single minke circling the boat for an hour. Lots of great views! PM: went out 2 miles northwest for the gray whales and 50 common dolphins. Good show for guests and were pleased.


3 gray whales


1 fin whale


 AM: went out 12 miles to see the gray whales. Guests were pleased with the good showing and cool clear breeze. PM: went out 9 miles to see the fin whale that came close to the boat a couple of times. Overall, a good show with many compliments on the narration and whales.


3 northbound gray whales, 1 fin whale, 200 common dolphins



4 northbound gray whales


AM and PM: clear and calm skies made both trips great time for guests.



6 gray whales, 2 fin whales, 50 bottlenose dolphins.

4 gray whales and 150 dolphins


AM: guests on this the trip saw the 6 gray whales plus the fin whale and with the bottlenose dolphins, it was spectacular and weather clear and mild. 

PM: one of the whales came right up to the boat to blow us a kiss. While we shut the motors down, he came right up to us to see what we were looking at. Our guests had an amazing experience. Fantastic day!!

San Diego Whale Watching Report 3/6 to 3/12/14

March 6 – March 12


Morning Cruise

Afternoon Cruise



4 gray whales, 20 common dolphins

2 gray whales

AM:  We saw 2 northbound gray whales.

PM:  We saw 4 gray whales and 20 common dolphins.

Guests were very happy both cruises!


4 gray whales, 2,000 common dolphins

13 gray whales

AM:  We only had to go out 5 or 6 miles to find two groups of north bound gray whales.  The second pair displayed mating behavior, but became self-conscious at our approach, and swam away.  We then found a mega-pod of common dolphin.

PM:  Found 13 north bound gray whales.  Two pods of 5 and one with 3.  The first pod of 5 gave us a nice show, one breach, one head slap, and a sideways tail fluke and pectoral fin swim by.  It was quite the whale fest this afternoon!


6 gray whales, 200 common dolphin, 2 pacific white sided dolphin, sea lions

4 gray whales, 1 fin back whale, 200 common dolphin

AM:  6 gray whales in all!  3 fins and 3 northbound grays. A solitary bottle nose dolphin was in the bay, and then a few pods of 50 common dolphins were seen on the open water.

PM:  We had a beautiful afternoon on the water, continuing the great sightings made by the AM cruise. We saw a pod of nearly 100 common dolphins on our way offshore where we encountered a fin whale that appeared to be feeding. Our inbound trip was marked by the sighting of 3 gray whales; all doing very shallow dives, spending lots of time at the surface on their trip back north.



2 gray whales, 1 humpback, 600 common dolphin, 1 mola mola, 1 shark

6 gray whales, 200 common dolphin

AM:  We saw 2 gray whales mating along with one humpback.  As well as 3 pods of common dolphin jumping out of the water, going crazy.  It was a great morning!

PM:  6 gray whales headed northbound in one group seen about 12 miles out and many common dolphin.


3 gray whales, 3 finback whales, 2,500 common dolphin

23 gray whales, 1,000 common dolphin

AM:  It was a ‘swell’ day on the water – with sunshine and lake like water.  Passengers came from around the world and across the US and many ‘locals’.  We viewed blows in the distance and one close view of a juvenile gray whale.  A few passengers saw a blow that we thought was a fin whale.  We also witnessed 2 gulls mating…with talons attached; and gracefully falling toward the water.

PM:  The sunshine continued into the afternoon and so did the swells.  However, it did not stop us from seeing the marine life at sea.  A group of 200 common dolphins played with the boat, causing passengers (and naturalists) to scream in delight!  Once we were past the 9 mile bank, we saw a total of 11 gray whales, with many blows in the distance.  One whale spy hopped and we saw multiple flukes.  At times a few of the whales were very interested in the boat; changing course to get a closer view of us.  On the way back to the San Diego bay, we saw another pod of 300 very active Common Dolphins who loved the Adventure.
It was a beautiful day on the Pacific Ocean.


3 gray whales

9 gray whales

AM:  3 northbound gray whales regularly showing their tail flukes on deep dives

PM:  9 gray whales, with one of those whales breaching seven times in the distance!  These 9 gray whales were divided as follows:  Two groups of three whales, one single and two traveling together.  Good day on the water!


7 gray whales

4 gray whales, 12 pacific white sided dolphins, 12 sea lions

AM: 7 gray whales, at least 16 breaches.  We also came across two southbound mating gray whales and a northbound pair breaching.  Fantastic views!  The guests were thrilled

PM:  A blue whale was seen right at SD #1.  We followed the whale for over an hour.  This whale wasn’t a full grown blue whale, but was at least 50 feet long.  There were two pairs of northbound gray whales.  We had some fantastic close views.  Everyone had a wonderful experience.  One of the pairs was mating and it was “special” there were over 50 white sided dolphins “cheering on” the mating whales.  An absolute wonderful day of whale watching.


Today’s Gray Whales Swim Right Up to the Hornblower Boat

San Diego Whale Watching Report for 3/17:

What a glorious day on the water!  The luck of the Irish was with us today for both cruises:  AM:  About 6 miles out, saw one fin whale but it quickly disappeared. The 3 grays heading north – one breached and two cris-crossed the bow of ship several times for close views. Saw about 40 common dolphins coming back into harbor.

PM:  About 7 miles out, saw 4 grays in groups.  Lots of rolling and pectoral fins, indicating mating behavior.  Lots of bottlenose and common dolphins all around the whales.  Three broke off and sped ahead and we stayed and watched the single whale stay on top of water, rolling, spy hopping for about 30 minutes very close to the boat.  Unbelievable sight – one 7 year whaler said she had never seen this previously. About 200 common dolphins and 100 bottlenose dolphins. Report from Kathy Eure, San Diego Natural History Museum Whaler.

From the book, One Thousand Whales in a Year, by Mike Roeder with his partner Scotty Schmidt ride the Hornblower Whale Watching cruise almost daily  ….”They (gray whales) appear as a sparkling, splashing presence that can be seen miles away. Once the boat draws near, they usually approach to play with the boat. Sometimes they are in traveling mode and pay no attention at all. Other times they are feeding and won’t play. But most of the time they swim with the the boat and we really enjoy watching them. From the bow of the Hornblower boat, we look directly downward to see them swimming effortlessly, they are being propelled by water shoved aside by the bow.”  For more
DSC01690 DSC01691 DSC01692 DSC01693 DSC01694 DSC01695 DSC01696 DSC01697 DSC01698 DSC01699Photos by Mike Roeder, Co-Author of the book: 1000 Whales in a Year.



San Diego Whale Watching Report for 2/27 – 3/5

San Diego Whale Report 2014 Season
February 27 – March 5


Morning Cruise

Afternoon Cruise



3 gray whales

1 finback whale, 2 juvenile gray whales


 AM:  We saw 3 amazing northbound gray whales preparing to mate.  Everyone was very excited.

PM:  We saw one finback whale up close as well as 2 juvenile gray whales.


9 gray whales, 6 pacific white sided dolphin

3 gray whales, 6 bottlenose whale

 AM:  We saw 6 gray whales in a group. We soon after came across 3 individual gray whales and one breached 4 times!

PM:  It had been a clear sunny day for both cruises.  We saw 3 gray whales with erratic behavior, diving after one blows, reappearing in zig-zag fashion.  There were also a few sea lions and dolphins out and about.


1,000-2,000 common dolphin, risso’s dolphin, 7 gray whales and 3 calf’s

4 finback whales, 2 gray whales

 AM:  It was a clear beautiful day on the Pacific Ocean this morning.  It was a little choppy and windy as Captain Bill headed the Adventure out to the 9 mile bank, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of finding a mega-pod of 1,000 to 2,000 common dolphins about six miles out.  There were many mother/calf pairs, and a report of some risso’s dolphin in the mix.  We think we saw blows of Fin whales, because when we got to where we saw the blows there were no whales.  We did finally find a very elusive north bound gray before we had to head back in.

PM:  Was a little choppier and windier making it more difficult to spot blows,  but this time the Fin whales were a little more cooperative.  One of the four we saw put on spectacular show as it swam near us showing off its tall blow and huge back from blowhole to dorsal fin as it came to the surface five separate times.  As we neared SD1 on our return we spotted a south bound grey, and a few minutes later a north bound grey showed up.


Whale Watching canceled due to weather


Whale Watching canceled due to weather


4 gray whales, 1 juvenile

3 gray whales, 2 juvenile

Another great day on San Diego Bay!  Even with the expected bad weather approaching us.


9 adult gray whales, 1 juvenile and 2 calf’s

3 adult gray whales, 3 juveniles, 3 sea lions, 4 common dolphin

 AM:  Went to mile bank to spot whales and observed a larger group of gray whales that were all north bound.  It was a group of 9 adults, 2 calf and cow/mom pairs, and one juvenile.  We were able to follow this group and observe for quite some time and see one breach!

PM:  We again headed out to nine mile bank and cruised north.  We were able to get fairly close to the two adults and soon saw another single adult fairly close by.  On the way in we saw a juvenile at the one mile buoy area and a couple smaller spouts.  We did see 3 random sea lions roaming around.  One was about 8 miles out which is pretty far off shore for a sea lion.  We also saw two pairs of common dolphins at about 4 miles.