By Rebecca Milkey, Southern California Director of Marketing

Successful Sightings and Statistics from Hornblower Captains, Crew and Volunteer Whalers from San Diego Natural History Museum

Percentage of Cruises that Hornblower successfully spotted whales* this summer Season : 99%

173 Blue Whales

9 Blue: Cow and Calf Pairs

29 Humpback Whales and 3 Breaches (photographed*)

12 Fin Whales

7 Minke Whales

20,750 Common Dolphin

47 Risso Dolphins

13 Hammerhead Sharks

5 Mola Mola or Ocean Sunfish

5 Flying Fish

1 Squid

3 Brown Booby, Blue-Footed Booby and 1 Masked Nazca Booby (rare)

*Hornblower guarantees that you see a whale, of any kind on seasonal whale cruises.

*Many more nonphotographed Humpback whale breaches.

Miscellaneous sightings on Whale Watching– Bottlenose Dolphins, Pacific White Sided Dolphins, Marlin, Sea turtle, school of Tuna, Elephant Seal, Cormorants, sea lions, Brown Boobies, sea lions, and seals

The San Diego whale watching scene is robust and exciting and each year it gets more fabulous as whale populations increase and variety of whales species show up. The nuances that have come with our climate change too have affected whale watching success and diversity.

Add up the experience of just four of our whale watching captains for 100 years of professional whale watching experience. Their passion for this cruise experience is exciting to watch. I read their Official Events reports and Customer Service surveys to see how much fun they have out there with our guests from all over the world.

Guests come from all over the world to visit San Diego. Hornblower hosts over 250,000 customers a year on all their cruises with about 65,000 on whale watching each year. Europeans from Italy, England, Germany, Ireland and Spain have been aboard, Canadians. (see whale reports for lists of international visitors)

Our volunteer docents called “whalers” from the San Diego Natural History Museum are dedicated professionals, setting our experience apart from other whale watching companies. Whalers dressed in yellow slickers cruise aboard each of the Hornblower whale watching cruise to interact with all our guests and show off reference materials, maps and even whale baleen to the families and children make the experience more educational and interesting. Some of the whalers have been volunteering on Hornblower for 10 years with the museum. We are lucky to share their wisdom, time and experience.

Hornblower Respects Marine Life:

Hornblower have developed a set of best practices for safe whale watching. We also have similar guidelines for operation near dolphin, and migratory birds. Our Captains are trained to operate properly with all of the different species we encounter, as they all behave differently.

Blue Whales are unique in that they often stay in one spot and sound for lengthy periods, usually coming up in the same area. But since they are not on a steady and predictable course like the Gray Whales, the usual technique is to get in the area and sit still. Often, they are curious, so if they do approach the boat, we make a point to stay out of gear until they are safely away. In all cases, we do not condone harassment of the whales, including chasing them or trying to get too close. We will reinforce this policy with all of our Captains.

Hornblower Cruises just completed a pilot program with NOAA and National Marine Fisheries. They selected our company to help based upon our love and respect for the whales and the data that we could supply them.

Thoughts on the Season From the Captain

Captain Chads passion for whales drove him to write a successful presentation to hce managers which eventually caused SD hce to start watching blue whales. Prior to this the only season we offered cruises was winter gray whale watching.

Captain Chad: My impression is that it seemed as though the whales were a little closer to shore this year. 6 miles vs. 9 miles last year. The quantity of whales was a little higher this year, plus we seem to have seen more humpbacks. There is no way to confirm this, but it also seems like when we go out we see the same whales each day, but like I said there is no way to confirm.

Comparing Blue Whale Watching to Gray whales is hard to do because they are two differnt styles of whale watch. Gray whales are quite literally “migrating” south or north, so we are able to position the boat behind the whale and pretty much match its course and speed to get good views. During Blue Whale Watching, all you can do is position the boat near the spot the whale took its deep dive and hope it pops up next to the boat. Fortunately, it seems like the whales are unaffected by our boat and do pop up fairly closely. Weather is definitely warmer during blues and it seems on average the seas are calm. I like the extra half hour needed to go out and explore and see what else is in the area (Dolphins, sharks, etc)

The Adventure Hornblower is the perfect ship for whale watching. I wouldn’t want to do whales on any other boat.

I love the whalers from the San Diego Natural History Museum. Some of the volunteers really go out of their way to make the experience memorable for the guests. I provide the guest with a lot of info at the very beginning as we are leaving the bay. After I give the info, I go out to the wing station and drive from there. I let everyone know they can ask me anything when I’m out there as well as ask the whalers. It’s interactive and enjoyable for everyone. I’m glad we are Blue Whale watching in summer and it that is successful. I feel like I have a vested interest in this and I really want it to succeed.

Captain Chads passion for whales drove him to present a successful report to Hornblower managers which eventually caused the company to add summer blue whale watching as an annual cruise product.

A note from the blogger: I have lived in San Diego since 1985 and worked in the charter boat industry since 1987, which gives me almost 30 years experience on the water. The last 20 has been with Hornblower whose goal is to create amazing experiences for our guests. I’m proud to say I monitor our customer service surveys and we achieve our goals! There’s a great deal to brag about when it comes to our cruise products and things to do on the waterfront. My favorite thing to do is whale watching. I go whale watching whenever I can yes, even on my personal vacations. I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy whale watching in New Zealand, Puerta Vallarta, Oahu and Maui, Hawaii and San Diego many times. Yep, I’m hooked on whales , dolphins and sea lions! I started a whale blog and Hornblower’s Whale Report about 5 years ago.

For more information about Hornblower Cruises visit

For more information about whale watching in San Diego, read the whale watching blog at

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