Monthly Archives: January 2014

Baby Gray Whale in San Diego Bay and Gray Whale Migration Route

(Video link courtesy of CBS 8 News and reporter Marcella Lee from Jan. 27,2014) A very small and young gray whale has been stuck in the San Diego Bay since January 26th, and according to CBS News 8,  Hornblower Captains and SDNHM Whalers’ daily sightings, the calf is still in San Diego Bay. With the knowledge that a gray whale calf usually nurses for about 7 months, and stays with their mother for up to 9 months, there is definitely a growing concern about the fate of the whale. Everyone hopes this gray whale calf, who is only about 2 weeks old, will find his way back to the migration path.

During the Fall Migration, the pregnant female gray whales take the lead on the southern migration, in a hurry to reach the warm birthing and nursery lagoons. Soon to follow are the males and other adult females. Juveniles, of course join this incredible journey, but some often don’t ever reach Mexico before turning around and heading back north.

Eventually the Northward (Spring) Migration occur. This is usually from January – June. During this migration route, the adult male gray whales and juveniles are the first to head north. The newly pregnant female gray whales, mothers and babies stay in the lagoons a month or two longer than the others so that the babies can gain blubber and strength before making the long journey back north to Alaska.

San Diego Whale Watching Report for January 24 – January 29


Morning Cruise

Afternoon Cruise



3 gray whales

3 gray whales, 1 gray whale calf

AM: 3 gray whales, all adults

PM: Several people asked about the stray gray whale calf that had been seen in the Bay. At the very end of the cruise, when we were already headed for the dock, Captain Bill got a radio message that the calf had been spotted off North Island. He turned around, and we did see the calf, which looked really small. No blow, just sticking its head out a few times, and showing its back.

That was exciting, but many people were concerned whether someone would “rescue” and feed the calf.


7 gray whales, 20 common dolphin, 6 pacific white sided dolphin

7 gray whales, 1 bottlenose dolphin

AM: We followed 3 very active gray whales for some time.  They were slapping, spy hopping, and breached twice!  Also saw 2 rolling around, possibly courtship.  Pacific white-sided dolphins in amongst the whales. Several breaches this morning!

PM: Followed a pod of 5-6 traveling together, heading south – fluking and spouting in sequence.  Saw one rolling at the surface. Awesome!


2 gray whales

3 gray whales

AM: We followed 2 gray whales for most of the trip. A lot of head splashing, fluking, and spy hopping.

PM: We had the opportunity to see 1 gray whale breach up close, which all the guest got to see. Amazing trip!


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

Single gray whale

AM: Hazy weather, calm seas. We saw 2 adult gray whales going south. Flukes and snorkeling. 200 common dolphin and 2 pacific white sides were seen. Occasional sea lions and one swimming with a grey whale. Good passenger patronage.

PM: 3 separate gray whale sightings, all heading south–2 juvenile, 1 adult. Snorkeling, one fluke. Lots of boating activity and a low flying hydroplane making the whales cautious. One reported sighting of a juvenile in the bay as we were heading toward the dock.


11 gray whales

4 gray whales, some pacific bottlenose dolphin

AM: Another fabulous day out on the water, with warm, sunny weather and calm seas. We saw a total of 11 gray whales, including one group of four. Unfortunately we didn’t find any dolphins but everyone had a great time watching our wonderful grays.

PM: The excellent viewing conditions continued into the afternoon. A couple of Pacific bottlenose dolphins escorted us almost to the mouth of the bay, bow-riding on the pressure wave created by the boat’s forward motion. Once we got out on the open ocean, we quickly spotted a group of three adult gray whales traveling together and we spent a considerable amount of time observing them. Turning back to the north, we found a single juvenile gray moving slowly south and watched it for a bit before turning back toward home after another wonderful day out on the water.


3 gray whales

10 gray whales

AM: Sea was in good form. We saw 2 juvenile gray whales going south and one adult gray whale. We followed them for about 40 minutes.

PM: Followed 2 adult gray whales for about 30 minutes that were seen right away at buoy number 1. Soon after, 2 more adult gray whales appeared. Moved about a mile and found two more. Then moved two miles and found a pod of 4 gray whales. Great show and very close!

(2 were really large female whales, one male and one juvenile)

On the way in we saw about two or three whales in the distance that gave us a show of 10 breaches.  Great finale.

San Diego Whale Watching Report: More Newborn Gray Whale Calf Sightings


Photo by Ken Shelby, SDNHM Whaler of Mom and Baby whale tail

baby Whale from Keith Jones

Photo by Keith Jones of Baby Gray Whale Calf

San Diego Whale Watching continues to be successful each day with reports of sightings of tons of whales and dolphins on Hornblower Cruise right off the coast of San Diego. The most exciting reports come directly from the Captains, like Captain Nick Kriesel who has been leading whale watching cruises for years on Hornblower Cruises. Many of his regular crew members say that Captain Nick has excellent “whale karma” since on a majority of his trips he sights spectacular gray whale behaviors. These whale behaviors include breaching and mating.

Here’s Captain Nick’s whale watching report from yesterday 1/22/14:

The a.m. Whale Watching trip on Adventure Hornblower,  we saw three ( 3) gray whales one of them being a newborn gray whale calf, no more than 2-3 days old.  We saw 60 white sided dolphins and common dolphins. It was a great trip.

The afternoon Whale Watching trip on Adventure Hornblower,  we saw seven (7) gray whales, a group of 4 swimming very fast in a south direction at 8 knots! Another great showing!

More info on Gray Whales:

Gray whale breeding occurs mostly in the winter to early spring while near the surface and in warm waters. The gestation period is about 13.5 months and the calf is born head first (unusual for cetaceans) and near the surface of the warm, shallow waters. The newborn instinctively swims to the surface within 10 seconds for its first breath; it is helped by its mother, using her flippers. Within 30 minutes of its birth the baby whale can swim. The newborn calf is about 15 feet long and weighs about 1-1.5 ton. Twins are extremely rare (about 1% of births); there is almost always one calf. The baby is nurtured with its mother’s fatty milk (53% fat) and is weaned in about 7-8 months. The mother and calf may stay together for about a year. Calves drink 50-80 pounds of milk each day. Gray whales reach maturity at 8 years. Growth stops at age 40 years old. Mature females give birth every other year in the warm lagoons off Baja, Mexico.

Gray whales have a life expectancy of 50-60 years.



San Diego Whale Watching Report For January 15th-January 21


Morning Cruise

Afternoon Cruise



2 singles adult gray whales

6 gray whales, 1 mola mola

AM: We saw 2 single adult gray whales that met up and began traveling together. Our 60 plus third graders from Ramona loved it.

PM: Fantastic day! We saw a total of six gray whales and 1 medium sized Mola Mola floating along very close to the boat. The two whales we were following appeared to be juveniles, with small flukes. Captain Chad estimated them to be about 20-25 feet long.  We stayed with them the entire time as they were visible right below the surface, snorkeling steadily along in no hurry, rarely showing a fluke and not diving either.  When they were directly in front of the bow one breached two times in a row to the delight of the crowd, all of whom whooped and clapped for more. Some people captured the breach on camera, Captain Chad encouraged anyone with pictures to send them to the Hornblower website and he would tell them how to do that. Captain Chad was terrific, so nice and helpful, and told some facts I hadn’t heard before about San Diego and other items.


9 gray whales, 2 pods of 4-5 gray whales, 200 common dolphin

10 gray whales, 100 common dolphin, several pods of gray whales

AM: 9 gray whales with numerous blows in distance. 200 common dolphin.

PM: Shortly after leaving the harbor, a dense fog rolled in and lingered for 20-30 minutes before dissipating. After the fog, the sun reappeared and we saw a group of 3 gray whales. We saw a total of 10 gray whales and numerous blows in the distance all around the ship. All whales seen near the boat were traveling with another whale. We also saw 50 common dolphin. Quite a few first timers and several families from San Diego that had never been whale watching before.


3 adult gray whales, 6 juvenile, 10-15 white sided dolphin

2 pods of juvenile gray whales

AM: 3 adult gray whales heading south (also 6 juvenile), lots of sea lion activity. We also saw about 10-15 white sided and common dolphin

PM: 2 separate pods of active juvenile gray whales (4 and 2) with light dives and flukes dipping into the water.


9 gray whales

5 gray whales

AM: We had a wonderful day on the water watching 7 single gray whales. We then had a great encounter with a mother and new born calf. We saw many of our friendly sea lions out about 5 miles off the coast. 2 pods of common dolphin in the distance.

PM: We followed 3 gray whales and observed mating behavior. Today we had a very bad day with other boats getting too close to the whales. The Captain had to warn one particular boat of the laws they apparently did not know about. Tourists were obviously upset with these other boaters.                                                          ”On any one day, I can’t say enough about the great crowds of people from all over the world that take Hornblower Excursions.”


10 gray whales, 2 bottlenose dolphin & 25 pacific white sided dolphin

10 gray whales, 2 bottlenose dolphin & 25 pacific white sided dolphin

AM: We saw 10 gray whales heading south, 2 bottlenose dolphin and 25 Pacific White Sided Dolphin. Mating behavior was observed with dolphins around the whales. Lots of tail splashing, flutes and snorkeling. We had passengers from all over the world on this cruise!

PM: We had a beautiful record breaking temperature. An especially beautiful day. We saw 6 gray whales heading south weaving around one another, which we then observed as mating behavior. We also saw many pelicans happily dive fishing together.


3 gray whales, 70 common dolphin

2 finback whales, 5 gray whales

AM: We saw our first two finback whales of the season! We also had the opportunity to see 5 gray whales and about 100 common dolphins.  Two of the southbound whales were seen with a calf between the two of them.

PM: We saw 7 gray whales.  We first noticed two fins, and eventually 5 gray whales appeared. The last 3 gray’s showed signs of mating and one breached 3 times. The trip was full of excitement! We were able to see multiple breaches, body rolls, upside down whales and pectoral fin slaps! It was a great day with fantastic weather on San Diego Bay!


12 gray whales

10 gray whales, 30 common dolphin

AM: Many flukes, 1 up close breach

PM: Many tail flukes.

Learn about and track the Gray Whale Migration

Gray Whale Breach

Gray Whale Breach

It’s whale watching season for the Gray Whales in San Diego and the height of the season is this Saturday’s San Diego Big Bay Whale Festival.  In honor of this weekend’s festival, we wanted to share some really cool websites we’ve found about the Gray Whales.

The first one is Journey North’s Gray Whale Sightings.  Journey North is an organization that:

citizen scientists in a global study of wildlife migration and seasonal change. K-12 students share their own field observations with classmates across North America. They track the coming of spring through the migration patterns of monarch butterflies, robinshummingbirdswhooping cranesgray whalesbald eagles— and other birds and mammals; the budding of plants; changing sunlight; and other natural events.

We like their Gray Whale Sightings Map in particular.  Observation posts are highlighted with a yellow stars and actual sightings are denoted with a blue circle.

The second website we really like is National Geographic’s page about the Gray Whales.  National Geographic shares a lot of great information about the species of whales.  They include a map of common areas where gray whales can be found and fast facts about Gray Whales.  Some of the fast facts include:



Size:40 to 50 ft (12.2 to 15.3 m)

Weight:30 to 40 tons (27,200 to 36,300 kg)

Group name:Pod

Protection status:Recovered

Size relative to a bus:

Illustration: Gray whale compared with bus

The third website we enjoy is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Alaska Fisheries Science Center.  NOAA presents a great FAQ about the gray whales, including some very interesting tidbits:

Gray whales used to be known as “devilfish” because they fiercely defend themselves and their calves against whalers.

There are now about 18,000 gray whales in the Eastern Pacific stock.   The eastern North Pacific stock of gray whales was removed from the endangered species list in 1994, however they are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The gray whale Western Pacific stock was believed to be extinct until 1925 when a few gray whales were seen off the coast of Siberia. There are still very few sightings of these whales

The last site that we love is our friends and partners at the San Diego Natural History Museum.  They have some great video, which you can also watch below:


To learn more about the Gray Whales, visit the San Diego Big Bay Whale Festival on Saturday, January 25 at the Port Pavilion on the Broadway Pier.

San Diego Whale Watching Report: First Finback of Season!

Today was non stop entertainment during both whale watching cruises on San Diego Bay!
During our morning whale watching cruise we saw our first two finback whales of the season! We also had the opportunity to see 5 gray whales and about 100 common dolphins.  Two of the southbound whales were seen with a calf between the two of them.
During the afternoon whale watching cruise we saw 7 gray whales.  We first noticed two Finback Whales, and eventually 5 gray whales appeared. The last 3 gray’s showed signs of mating and one breached 3 times!
The trip was full of excitement! We were able to see multiple breaches, body rolls, upside down whales and pectoral fin slaps! It was a great day with fantastic weather on San Diego Bay!
San Diego Natural History Museum's Whaler Terry Baird captures this image of a Gray Whale breaching on January 16th 2014

San Diego Natural History Museum’s Whaler Terry Baird captures this image of a Gray Whale breaching on January 16th 2014

Breaching Gray Whale

Terry Baird Breaching Gray Whale (3)
About the finback whale:
The fin whale is one of the rorquals, a family that includes the humpback whale, blue whale, Bryde’s whale, sei whale, and minke whale. Rorquals all have a dorsal fin and throat grooves that expand when the animal is feeding. The fin, or finback whale is second only to the blue whale in size and weight. Among the fastest of the great whales, it is capable of bursts of speed of up to 23 mph (37 km/hr) leading to its description as the “greyhound of the sea.” Its most unusual characteristic is the asymmetrical coloring of the lower jaw, which is white or creamy yellow on the right side and mottled black on the left side. Fin whales are found in all oceans of the world, though they seem to prefer temperate and polar waters to tropical seas.

The fin whale is long, sleek, and streamlined, with a V-shaped head which is flat on top. A single ridge extends from the blowhole to the tip of the rostrum (upper jaw). There is a series of 50-100 pleats or grooves on the underside of its body extending from under the lower jaw to the navel.

for more information, visit our friends at the American Cetacean Society.

San Diego Whale Watching Report for Jan. 15, 2014

 Zach's Gray Whale breach

San Diego Whale Watching Report for 1/15/14 by Captain Eric Gustafson from Hornblower Cruises

(photo by Zach)

Route:  Hornblower dock to coastal area off Point Loma to border and return to dock

Weather:  Smooth seas, warm, mostly clear.

Guest Services:  AM: 12 Gray whales, lots of flukes, 1 up close breach!

PM: 10 Gray whales, 30 common dolphin, lots of tail flukes.

Great guest comments on both trips.

About Breaching: Breaching is among the most spectacular of cetacean behaviors that you might observe because it involves the cetacean emerging partially or fully from the water. During a breach, the whale, dolphin or porpoise launches itself headfirst into the air and then falls back down to the water (often with quite a splash). The smaller cetaceans such as dolphins and porpoises can launch their entire bodies out of the water but larger cetaceans (for example, whales) usually emerge only part of their body during a breach. (Taken from and reprinted  from Understanding Whale and Dolphin Behavior, By 

Hornblower Cruises spots First Gray Whale Calf of the Season on Whale Watching

Hornblower Cruises & Events San Diego Whale WatchingMom and Calf

Hornblower Captain Richard Goben phoned Tuesday afternoon from the whale watching cruise to report that he sighted a female Gray Whale and its newborn calf from Adventure Hornblower. “I believe this is the first of the whale watching season”, he said. And yes, it is! (photo by Rich Goben)

Whale Report- for Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 by Mike Stewart Whale Naturalist from San Diego Natural History Museum.

On any one day, I can’t say enough about the great crowds of people from all over the world that take Hornblower Cruises. 

We had a wonderful day on the water watching 3 gray whales and being entertained by two large pods of dolphins at the beginning and end of the trip. We also watched the bottlenose dolphins being trained by navy personnel. We saw many of our friendly sea lions out about 5 miles off the coast.


It was a great visit from the common dolphin population. some 300 commons visited up along our way. We headed South West to just above the Mexico – American border and found a friendly gray whale. Then we had the pleasure of seeing a baby gray with its mother, heading south, and very probably a very new birth. The spouts from the baby were very small. The mother would travel slowly in a shallow dive directly under the baby supporting the calf near the surface. In this way the mother will teach its baby to breath correctly and protect it from predators. 

mother gray and calf

Thank you Captain Goben and Mike Stewart

San Diego Whale Report for Jan. 6-12, 2014


Morning Cruise

Afternoon Cruise



5 gray whales

12 gray whales, 100 common dolphin

AM: We saw a total of 5 gray whales this morning, with 1 breech.

PM: We were 3 miles off Sunset Cliffs and saw 6 gray whales. All together we ended up seeing 12 gray whales and lots of flukes. The common dolphin also gave us a great show.


15 gray whales, 25 common dolphin

No whales, 5-6 common dolphin

AM: We had a great crowd and saw many of our friendly sea lions throughout the day. We came upon an unusual site of gray whales in an enormous tangle. They were rolling over one another and flipping their tails. This gray whale mating behavior is complex, and frequently involves 3 or more whales of mixed sexes.

(See Video: Hornblower Cruises & Events Whale Watching )

PM: The afternoon excursion was very different… A fog bank came over Point Loma and the fog stayed with us all afternoon.


11 gray whales, 50 common dolphin, some pacific white sided dolphins & 1 mola mola

8 gray whales, many sea lions

AM: Lots of tail flukes. Everyone was very pleased.

PM: We followed 12 gray whales, some moved rather close to the boat. A large group of sea lions entertained our guests.


6 gray whales, 50 common dolphin

6 gray whales, 1,000 common dolphin

AM: We saw 6 gray whales and about 50 common dolphins.

PM: We had the opportunity to be quite close to 5 whales, with several in the distance. The friendly whales gave our guests a thrill! One whale exhibited some strange behaviors. It swam mostly on the surface with little deep diving and showed its tail flukes a great deal of the time. We believe it was a juvenile.


4 gray whales

9 gray whales, 2 bottlenose

AM: 4 gray whales (one was juvenile.)

PM: 9 gray whales (one was juvenile), three of the grays were showing mating behavior with one breaching 10 times; also some spy-hopping.  Very exciting cruise!


12 gray whales, 60 common dolphin

12 gray whales, 200 common

Am: We had 12 whales and about 60 common dolphin. We also had 5 breaches from separate whales!

PM: We again had 12 whales and about 200 common dolphins! A great day full of spectacular views and happy guests.


7 gray whales, 60 common dolphin

6 gray whales

AM: Beautiful, clear, calm day with an almost non-existent swell.  Captain Nick did a superb job of giving all the guests some great views of 7 gray whales. And, there were even more spouts off the in distance.  We were also very fortunate to encounter about 60 common dolphins that always make everyone very happy when they swim so close to the boat, hugging our bow and surfing at the stern.

 PM: Another lovely, sunny afternoon. Guests onboard from Denver and Chicago were all defrosting and enjoying our beautiful San Diego sunny afternoon whale watching cruise. Although we had a slight offshore breeze, you couldn’t ask for a nicer day. The Los Coronados Islands were as clear as if they were one mile away instead of 12.  We even saw some big splashes out there which told us that a whale had breached 3 times offshore. Not to worry, we had other whales just waiting for us, slowly swimming along, sometimes just ever so slightly diving. While those deeper dives showed off those beautiful flukes for that perfect photo. We saw a total of 6 whales this afternoon and a beautiful pink sky as we made our way back to the dock.

San Diego Whale Watching video From 1/11, taken by Hornblower Captain

On Saturday, January 11, 2014, Hornblower Cruises & Events’ first officer, Grant Boardman, captured this energetic group of gray whales on video just off the coast of San Diego and Point Loma. The crew often see and photograph the gray whales and dolphins during the San Diego Whale Watching Cruises along with the guests. This season’s sightings has featured many pods of whales, which is exciting.

Every day from December into April, Hornblower’s crew on board Adventure Hornblower head out to sea on two whale watching Cruises with hundreds of eager guests to see the migration of  the California Gray Whale. These mammals have the longest migration known of any mammal. They travel 10,000 to 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.

The whale watching journey begins at the Hornblower ticket booth and boarding location on Port of San Diego with a guided tour with the Captain of the ship. As the ship begins it’s journey, it is guaranteed that all on board the Adventure Hornblower will sight a whale! With the help of the Whalers from the San Diego Natural History Museum, this cruise is quite extraordinary.