How many of you saw this video of a pod killer whales saying hello to a paddleboarder in Laguna Beach?
Pretty amazing right?
For those of you not from LA, spotting killer whales this far south is pretty freaking rare. And because orcas have been my favorite animal on this planet since I was 8 years old, I was immediately obsessed with seeing them for myself, as soon as I could.
After buying a whale-watching Travelzoo coupon for Channel Island Sportfishing in Oxnard for one of my days off, my adventure was set. I woke my ass up at 6am and drove the 1.5 hours North to Oxnard, a town with a surprisingly beautiful beach that most people (including me) usually think of as that agricultural bit you pass on the way to Santa Barbara.
When I arrived at the docks, I asked a staff member if it was true that pods of orcas had been spotted in the last week, and she told me yes – twice! And since I’d heard that the channel between the Channel Islands and SoCal coast was a fantastic place to spot whales, dolphins and loads of other marine life, I was feeling super pumped about heading out.
Despite the few weird looks I got from people because I was alone and lugging some camera gear, it was a perfect morning – gorgeous sunshine + being on the water = a very happy me! And it was a very uncrowded boat, which made it all the better.
Our first wildlife spotted were a massive pod of dolphins, which I always love because they are usually super friendly and not afraid of a boat. I love how they always jump out of the water at full speed, regardless of who is around. Dolphins truly don’t give a fuck. Maybe I was a dolphin a previous life.
We also saw some sea lions and a lot of diving sea birds that the captain told us facts about, but I couldn’t tell you what they were. I’m not a bird person, I tuned him out.
Anyways, I was too busy searching the horizon for the money shot – a spout of water from a whale blowhole, or, as I kept fantasizing, a killer whale leaping entirely out of the water and doing a 360 spin, like they do at Sea World. (A quick note: I realize that isn’t a common wild orca behavior. Sea World is effing evil, never give them your money. Watch Blackfish if you have questions.)
Turns out I was out of luck on the orca front, though we did spot a pod of 4 grey whales together, who took turns surfacing and spouting water, occasional giving us a peek at their tails before diving down for another couple of minutes.
About this time the sky started to turn a creepy greenish grey, and we lost the sun. After we lost track of the grey whales, we made our way to Anacapa Islands, where there was a lighthouse on a cliff above some gorgeous rock formations, including an arch that I’ve seen in photos before. I’m definitely going back there to kayak and explore a bit more another time! (It is on my list, after all.)
We turned and headed back towards the mainland, passing more dolphins not giving a fuck, while the captain apologized that he we hadn’t seen as many whales as he usually is able to find. Sigh. Men.
Suddenly, about halfway back to Oxnard, we spotted a fin and a spout in the distance, along with a footprint, and we switched course towards it. The captain said he wasn’t sure what type of whale it was yet, but he suspected it was a fin whale, which are usually skittish around boats and won’t let you get too close for proper inspection.
Lucky for us, this whale was more friendly than his species usually is and he kept us company for an entire half hour. He would come up for a moment, spout some water, and head back down for a couple of minutes before reappearing. He was a juvenile about 20 feet long, but from the surface it’s hard to tell how big the thing is when you only see a small arch of it’s back. It was still pretty great to follow the little guy and see him up close, and everyone was pretty satisfied when the captain turned his course back towards the docks.
I was a little bummed about not seeing any orcas, but I was still happy. The ship’s cook made me a bacon egg and cheese sandwich on the grill and I sat alone in the galley staring out the window at the ocean, thinking about how this may have been the best whale watching trip I’d done. I saw two kinds of whales, loads of dolphins and sea lions, and we actually had some scenery to check out at Anacapa, and the closer we got to shore, the more the sun started to sneak back out from behind the marine layer.
Seeing some killer whales in the wild is going to have to remain unchecked on my life list, but it was still a worthwhile adventure.
I mean, I got a bacon egg and cheese out of it, at least.
Have you ever gone whale watching? What did you think? And if you’ve seen an orca in the wild, PLEASE immediately tell me where, when and how much the next plane ticket there is!
Adventure: Whale watching at the Channel Islands National Park.
Where: The national park is located off the coast of Southern California, and you can reach several of the islands from Oxnard, Ventura and Santa Barbara harbors. You can camp on a few of the islands, which is definitely something I want to do in the future.
I did my whale watching trip with Channel Islands Sportfishing in Oxnard, CA. I definitely recommend the company because the boat was small and not crowded, unlike the experiences I’ve had whale watching in the past out of Newport and Long Beach. They were also super nice and the captain was the perfect mix of informative, funny, friendly, and quiet when we were observing the wildlife.
Cost: Tickets are regularly $50, but I bought mine on a Travelzoo local deal for $30. The staff mentioned they run deals on Groupon and LivingSocial all the time as well, so if you’re interested, I’d keep an eye out for deals because I don’t think many people actually pay full price!
When To Go: You’ll see different whales in Southern California, depending on the season. I’ve done all of them, and they are all fun because no matter the type of whale, you get to see lots of dolphins,sea lions, and be out on the water, which is awesome. Unless you getsea sick, in which case itmight not bequite as fun.
- Winter (December-April): Grey Whales
- Summer (June-September): Blue Whales, Humpback Whales (and also in the Spring)
- Year Round: Minke whales, Fin whales, and apparently (rarely) Killer Whales
- This would be a good whale watching trip if you get bored of staring at the sea for a long time. Because it goes out to Anacapa, you get to check out some gorgeous rocky island scenery, so it breaks up the hours out on the open ocean that other trips incur.
- Oxnard really is surprisingly lovely! There was a little set out shops and cafes near the harbor that were nice. I had lunch at Fisherman’s Catch after I got back. Turns out a couple friends of mine were filming a TV show right there on the beach, so I met them on their lunch break for a bit of chowder. Not bad!