2022-2023 Winter Whale Watching Report

Date Morning Cruise Afternoon Cruise Notes
2/6/23 6 Gray Whales
1000+ Common Dolphins
Morning: A truly incredible experience as we were able to encounter gray whales almost immediately after leaving the harbor! We stayed with the first pair for a while, then saw a few singles, but the real thrill came later in the cruise when we encountered a mating pair rolling and bobbing. Captain Rick kept the boat perfectly positioned and we sat almost entirely still for nearly 30 minutes as we watched this pair roll, slap their tails, spy hop and stay in nearly perfect sync. The whales were just next to the boat and guests were treated to a fantastic encounter, including a rare opportunity to even hear a whale vocalization! We also encountered a huge pod of common dolphins, many of which stayed with the whales.
2/5/23 4 gray whales
a single common dolphin
24 false killer whales
10 common dolphins
1 gray whale
Morning: Not long after reaching the open waters off Point Loma, we encountered a single gray whale heading south. We then spotted a pair of gray whales traveling together also heading south, that we were able to track for a good 15 minutes. It's always fun to watch them do a series of appearances at the surface before a final dive signaled by a salute of their flukes Not long after we encountered the gray whales our captain received a report from another boat of a sighting of, well, they weren't sure what they had. We were in for a super surprise once we reached the pods. We were able to follow a couple of small pods of false killer whales! It was such a rare treat. Captain Chad said he had never seen these animals in his 25 year career, not surprising since this species of dolphin tends to be found mainly in tropical regions. We were able to stay with them for at least 20 minutes. If it weren't for the fact that they were headed straight for Mexican waters we would have followed them longer but we had to turn around. Luckily, before making the turn, some of these magnificent creatures put on a display of aerial acrobatics that was spectacular. Onboard, the crowd loved it and those who are regulars on whale watching trips were more than impressed. We were incredibly fortunate to see such a scarce sight. Before heading back to the dock we still had a couple of more sightings. We were tailed by a single common dolphin for a while and watched a gray whale, possibly a juvenile, make a series of single dives, no snorkeling, but each dive ending with flukes in the air
Afternoon: Guests were able to see two different small pods of common dolphins and we finished our trip with a solo gray whale. The whale didn't appear to be trying to get anywhere in a hurry and spent a lot of time in the same area, so we were able to see several different breath cycled. We were treated at the end to a beautiful fluke as the whale went down for a long dive and we headed back to land.
2/4/23 1 juvenile whale
1 whale/calf pair
500 common dolphins
5 sea lions
3 gray whales
1 Mola Mola
200 Common Dolphins
Morning: Under sunshine and blue skies on a picture perfect San Diego day, we saw a juvenile whale heading south, staying below for long periods before the next series of breaths and showing flukes. We were treated by at least 500 dolphins, who were very acrobatic in leaping through the air and slapping the water. Then a mother and calf came our way, staying close to each other and to the surface.
Afternoon: We saw a group of about 5 sea lions swimming together out in the ocean. Then we found 3 gray whales together. It was so fun to see all their blows and tails one after the other, especially when they glistened in the sun. The whales swam close enough to the boat we could hear their blows. We also found a big Mola Mola (ocean sunfish) basking in the sun. On the way back we found a pod of about 200 common dolphin. Some of them were stampeding in the distance, some were feeding nearby, and some surfing in our wake.
2/3/23 1 Mother/Calf gray whale pair
2 Adult gray whales
30 Risso’s dolphins
1000 Common dolphins
Morning: We spotted the mother/calf pair as we were approaching buoy SD1. We only stayed with them for a short time due to heavy boat traffic. As we were heading north looking for whale spouts we saw a small group of Common dolphins, so went to investigate. They seemed to be more interested in feeding than playing with us so we continued north. But for the next 30 to 40 minutes, there was always a different group of Common dolphins swimming towards us. Then Captain Eric spotted a concentration of 500 common Dolphin. After leaving them we came upon a pod of 30 Risso’s dolphins, one of whom breached 5 times. Then we received a report from the America that they were with 2 adult gray whale so head south to see them, we saw them fluke a couple of times, but we were out of time and had to head in.
2/2/23 1 adult Gray Whale
1 juvenile Gray Whale
650 Common Dolphins
Morning: After exiting the bay, we quickly found one Gray Whale traveling South. After staying with it for a few breath cycles, we moved on and found a pod of around 250 Common Dolphins. Later, we came upon a pod of 400-500 Common Dolphins. We ended our trip by spotting a juvenile Gray Whale, stayed with it for a couple of breaths & headed back.
1/29/23 5 gray whales 3 gray whales
3 Bottlenose dolphins
Morning: Even with gray skies and drizzle, we spotted a couple of groups of Gray whales as they traveled south. They were somewhat elusive, but passengers were able to get some good views.
Afternoon: As we departed the bay, we were surprised with sun peeking through the gray clouds! The sun rays added a nice backdrop to the views of the 3 gray whales that we spent time with throughout the cruise. And, toward the end of the cruise, as we were returning to the bay, a few passengers spotted Bottlenose Dolphins that crossed the bow of the Adventure.
1/28/23 6 gray whales
4 bottlenose dolphins
Morning: We saw 2 single juvenile whales, and then a trio of adults. Another adult seemed to be heading toward the trio, trying to catch up. The trio was in sync with their blows and several deeper dives showing their flukes. After we re-entered SD Bay and were almost back to the dock, 4 bottlenose dolphins appeared and swam past the bow, welcoming us back.
1/27/23 9 Gray Whales
1 cow/calf pair
75 Pacific White-sided Dolphins
Morning: We were about a mile out when we saw a large spout along with a smaller spout and identified our 1st sighting of the day-a cow and very young calf (4-6 weeks old approximately) heading south. It was so exciting for all onboard to see the behavior of the mom being protective and encouraging her calf to continue swimming toward the Los Coronado Islands, the gateway to the lagoons of Baja California Mexico. Captain Eric decided to continue our course heading in a westerly direction to sight more Eastern Pacific Gray Whales. Within 10 minutes we came upon a single Gray heading south at a steady pace. Guests on board got really great photos of the spout and fluke. We continued our journey and found a pair of Grays that were rolling with their flippers and spouting, Then a short distance from the pair we identified another adult Gray. A Whaler and guests who were in the back of the boat sighted another pair of adults spouting and fluking. Guests on board were so excited and thrilled to see a migratory pod of 75 Pacific White-sided Dolphins that came close to the Adventure enjoying the bow riding and surfing the waves in the back of the vessel. As the dolphins continued their time by the vessel 2 more adult Grays were quarter of a mile from the Adventure. The guests began shouting and pointing to more whales that were spouting and fluking in the distance. The Whalers on board call this amazing encounter "Whale Soup" as there were many more whales in such a short distance from the vessel.
1/23/23 8 gray whales: 7 adults, 1 juvenile Morning: After spotting a singular gray whale we moved south to watch a pair for a while. We followed a pair of whales engaged in what appeared to be courting behavior. The two whales repeatedly rolled on their sides and swam around each other at a shallow depth. Their flukes often came out of the water sideways, making them look like fins. We followed them until we were close to the Mexico border, so the captain turned us north back toward the bay. As we were doing so we came across a mother and calf heading south.
1/22/23 3 Gray Whales including a mother/calf pair. 600 long-beaked
400 short-beaked common dolphins.
1/20/23 5 gray whales (4 adult, 1 juvenile) 350 common dolphins Morning: With early morning reports of a whale spotted a few miles off shore, Captain Rick was confident we would have a good day of sightings. We weren't disappointed, as within a few miles of leaving the harbor we saw a gray whale surfacing - it was the one who had been reported earlier in the morning! The whale showed off its quintessential heart-shaped blow and treated us to a shot of its flukes before diving below. We then ventured on and found a pair of adult gray whales who surfaced several times in each breath sequence and later on an adult and juvenile pair of grays. We finished the trip with hundreds of common dolphins who could be seen from every angle of the boat, including a nursery pod with some calves.
1/18/23 2 Grays
500 Common Dolphins
Morning: We caught up with two Gray Whales heading south and followed them until we had to turn around before we went into Mexican waters. Returning to the dock we encountered 500 Common Dolphins.
1/15/23 4 Gray whales
30 Pacific White-sided dolphin
200 Common dolphin
Morning: A few Whalers had an unusual bird sighting - a Masked Booby. Soon out of the harbor we came upon a juvenile Gray whale but it kept changing direction so we moved on. A pod of Pacific White-sided dolphin joined us for awhile for bow-riding. It didn’t take long before Captain Rick found 2 more Gray whales, these were adults and we observed them displaying mating behavior. We had some really good views as they stayed close to the surface. All around us were Common dolphin, including quite a few young. On the way back to the harbor we spotted another single whale but it too was being illusive. The sky was full of seabirds, many diving close to the boat. At the bait docks we saw a number of basking sealions, a handful of egrets, and a Brandt’s Cormorant with it’s brilliant blue throat.
1/14/23 5 Grey Whales
Small pod of Pacific White Side Dolphins
1000 common dolphins
Morning: As we got into open ocean we came upon three grey whales frolicking in the water together, joined by a small pod of pacific white sided dolphins. It was amazing to watch them play, coming up multiple times before their deeper dives. We had multiple fluke sightings. While we were watching the three whales close up there were also two grey whales in the distance.
On our way back to the dock we came upon a large 1000 dolphin pod that stayed with us for over 15 minutes, jumping and eating a long the way. Finally, we passed the bait docks to view the California Sea lions.
1/13/23 1 Southbound juvenile Gray Whale
1 small pod of 25 Common Dolphins
2 Southbound Adult Gray Whales
1 larger pod of 125 Common Dolphins
Morning: The Adventure headed out of the San Diego Bay under cloudy skies until we reached the area where the ocean and bay water meet and the sun met us! We were just slightly past the tip of Point Loma when we encountered a juvenile Eastern Pacific Gray Whale heading south. This is an area where the Gray Whales sight Point Loma and turned toward the Los Coronado Islands as that is the passageway to the Lagoons in Baja California, Mexico. The captain followed the juvenile for about 20 minutes letting guests observe the spouts, body and fluke of the Whale. We then came into contact with a small pod of 25 Common Dolphins that came close to the boat delighting guests on board. The Adventure continued to the west and the Whaler Naturalists on board sighted 2 adult Gray Whales and of course we headed over to check these incredible whales out. We observed both Gray Whales fluking and their unique spout formation is mesmerizing to watch!! As our time came to a close we were very fortunate to have another encounter with a pod of 125 Common Dolphins that came close to ride the bow of the vessel and surf the back of the vessel too!
1/7/23 5 whales
400 dolphins
2 Gray whales
Pod of 95 Common Dolphins
50 California Sea Lions
1 Bottlenose Dolphin
Morning: After going south for 2-3 miles, we first saw an adult gray whale, then a mother/calf duo, plus another adult after going farther south. We spotted one or two spouts in the distance, but too far to tell for sure if they were gray whales. Large pods of common dolphins joined us several times throughout the morning, totaling at least 400 overall. All the guests were thrilled with the close-up views, especially watching the mother whale taking care of the calf, keeping it close at all times.

Afternoon: Between 4 to 5 miles out, spouts were spotted in the distance to the West and we quickly found a pair of adult Gray Whales that were traveling South. The Adventure then traveled alongside the pair of whales for over an hour and were joined by a pod of around 95 Common Dolphins. The bait dock was occupied by about 50 California Sea Lions, all napping together, accompanied by 20 to 30 Cormorants and a Great Blue Heron. The City Cruises crew also reported seeing a Bottlenose Dolphin on the way back to the dock.

12/31/22 1 Gray whale
2,000 Common Dolphins
Morning: Soon after leaving the bay we encountered a huge pod of Common Dolphins that completely surrounded the boat and could be seen for a long way in front and back of the boat. Captain Dave's estimate was about 2,000 Common Dolphin. A single Gray Whale was spotted and we followed it for over an hour. She exhibited typical Gray Whale behavior, three blows and a fluke.
12/30/22 5 gray whales: 4 adults, 1 juvenile
2 bottlenose dolphins
3 gray whales
80 short-beaked common dolphins
Morning: No whitecaps or waves on the open ocean made for excellent whale-watching conditions. We followed a pod of three gray whales for more than an hour and were treated to fantastic views with the whales maintaining an almost continual distance of 100-200 yards of the beam. We could frequently hear the whales exhaling in the quiet air. Spotted two bottlenose dolphins as we passed Ballast Point on our return who rode the bow wake for a while.

Afternoon: We spotted the first gray whale, which was a subadult traveling south. We had several nice, close looks including fluking before it dove. We then went to see a second subadult that was traveling northwest and more elusive. The third gray whale was a very large adult that was very slowly swimming south. This whale surfaced several times right by the boat thrilling all guests onboard with great looks. This whale also fluked before diving. We finished off our trip with a nursery pod of common dolphins, including a few bowriding. As we headed into the bay, we passed by several navigation buoys with lounging California sea lions and a harbor seal popped its head above the water.

12/29/22 3 Gray Whales
3 Humpback Whales
300 Common Dolphins
Several pods of common dolphins - about 150 total Morning: Departing on an overcast morning with light wind chop and a 4-6 foot west swell we were hopeful we’d sight some whales. Once clear of San Diego harbor, Captain Eric and his crew set a course that took us approximately 2 miles off Sunset Cliffs where we encountered three southbound Gray Whales. After tracking the whales south for about a mile, we encountered a large pod of Common Dolphins crossing our course. Soon we came upon Brown Pelicans diving into the water near another pod of Common Dolphins. In their midst, two Humpback Whales were feeding on a bait ball. Leaving these two whales, we saw another Humpback who saluted us with a pectoral slap on our way back to the harbor.

Afternoon: The sun peeked out a few times over the course of the otherwise cloudy afternoon. Although no whales were spotted, on the return trip from the 9-mile bank, everyone was excited to see a couple of pods of common dolphins that converged on the boat, swimming with us for a while, soaring over and through the water.
12/28/22 50 common dolphins Morning: A beautiful San Diego skyline after the overnight rain. Slowed to interact with a pod of common dolphins.
12/26/22 2 Gray Whales
Large pod of Common Dolphins
Morning: 2 southbound gray whales encountered soon after leaving San Diego Bay. The whales breached several times and fluked repeatedly. We were with them for most of the morning except for a break to intercept a very large northbound pod of common dolphins.
12/25/22 2 humpback whales
150 common dophins
40 Pacific white sided
Morning: Interacted with a playful pod of common dolphins. Our search continued until we came across 2 humpback whales, feeding and treating us to many flukes. Traveling as well was a pod of Pacific white sided dolphins and not to be left out quite a few sea lions masquerading as dolphins.
12/23/22 1 Gray Whale
600 Common Dolphins
California Sea Lions Morning: Turning northwest we found one juvenile gray whale just beyond the kelp beds south of Ocean Beach. The gray whale was very slowly moving south and spouting at approximately 2.5 minute intervals. A small runabout boat, which was constantly in front of the whale, appeared to cause the whale to go into the kelp beds. We departed the kelp beds and sailed 3 miles offshore to intercept pods of common dolphins with about 600 dolphins converging on a large bait ball to feed. We broke off from the dolphins and just before returning to the Harbor’s main channel we re-encountered the gray whale seen earlier. The whale was traveling south with a more typical 30-40 second surface interval. While we didn’t see the gray whale’s fluke, we did see a number of heart-shaped blows before a rapid return to port.

Afternoon: Sunny and hazy conditions in the bay turned into heavy fog as soon as we entered the open ocean. In the bay, we spotted a few California sea lions lounging around on the navigation buoys. The dense fog made it difficult to spot any whales or dolphins.
12/22/22 4 Gray Whales
40 Common Dolphins
10 Pacific Whiteside Dolphins
One Mola Mola
1 Gray Whale
100 Pacific Whiteside Dolphins
Morning: The morning cruise featured beautiful skies and calm seas - Captain Eric took us out towards the nine-mile bank to look for some of the humpback whales that have been spotted in the area. While cruising around the bank we encountered a group of approximately 40 common dolphins and another pod of about 10 active pacific whiteside dolphins playing and darting around the bow of the boat. The crew heard from other boats in the area about a group of Gray Whales heading south so we headed back closer to shore and were treated to a group of four adult Gray Whales heading south. The group was fairly close to shore and we cruised with them for quite a while enjoying many great up close blows and flukes before saying adios as the group entered Mexico.

Afternoon: After seeing the group of Gray Whales heading south in the morning, Captain Eric ventured closer to shore for the afternoon cruise and scanned up and down the waters of Pacific Beach and Mission Bay looking for another group spotted earlier in the day. Skies were sunny and dotted with a few wispy high clouds and guests were treated to a rare “Cloud Bow” rainbow formation that reflected in the water and a large pod of approximately 100 Pacific Whiteside Dolphins. We followed the Cloud Bow to a Gray Whale! We spotted a very large adult (possibly pregnant female) heading south in a fairly rapid pace and cruised along as the whale gave us many close up blows and great views of its large back, the fluke print pattern and several tail flukes. When it was time to head back the whale said goodbye with a final nice fluke to end the cruise!
12/21/22 2 Humpbacks
5 Pacific White Sided Dolphins
800 Common dolphins
3 possible gray whales (in the distance on way back in)
Morning: We saw a few Pacific White Sided Dolphins and 50 or so Common Dolphins on the way out. Once further offshore, we spotted a Humpback who was probably feeding, as he was taking frequent breaths, but fluking most breaths. He u-turned once to go back through a feeding spot (lots of birds and dolphins hanging around.) On the way back in, we saw blows from at least 3 probable gray whales (bushy blows.) Finally, a pod of around 800 Common Dolphins came from all sides, bow riding and playing on all sides of the boat.
12/20/22 2 Humpback Whales
Many Common Dolphins
1 Adult Grey Whale Morning : We made for a southerly direction initially but when Captain Rick got word of a very large pod of common dolphins from the operators of a pair of Zodiacs, he changed course due west. Within 20 minutes we were in the midst of a very high-energy pod. We enjoyed their display of seemingly effortless movements for at least 20 minutes on both sides of the vessel. Then it was reported that whales were seen to the north of our position. When we reached the area where these sightings had been made, we saw the blows of at least three whales spread out over the water. One was just too far away but we were fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of one humpback whale and then to see a series of spouts that turned out to belong to a juvenile humpback whale. It was very exciting to see this youngster make its surface dives then give us a wave off of its fluke after each of several dives. It turned out that the whale that was too far out was a blue whale so they are still in the area, way cool.

Afternoon: We rode along with an adult grey whale, observing him at many different angles. It was a great experience! Afterwards we were able to talk with the group about whale facts, including showing how large the whale would be if he was sitting on the ship with us.
12/10/22 2 Humpback Whales
3 Mola Molas
30 common Dolphins
Today's first whale watching cruise of the winter season was simply spectacular! The sun was shining, the seas were glassy calm, the swell was a miniscule two feet and we saw WHALES. Captain Dave took us out to the nine-mile bank where we hooked up with two juvenile humpback whales. They came close enough to the Adventure Hornblower, for us to hear their blows, and after several passes and soundings, one whale bid us adieu with its flukes. We also got good looks at the ocean sunfish, aka mola mola and a small pod of common dolphin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you do whale watching tours in San Diego?

You sure can! City Cruises offers some of the best whale watching tours around. Enjoy a narrated experience by our expert guides and see whales up close and personal. If you are looking to see specific whales, be sure to visit during the appropriate season! 

How much is whale watching in San Diego?

Prices for whale watching tours in San Diego usually range from $60 to $75 per person. It depends on the day, time of year and a few other factors. It is well worth the experience! 

When can you see gray whales in San Diego?

Gray whales can be seen in San Diego from mid-December to early April. This is the time of year when they migrate from Alaska to Baja California. Book your whale watching cruise for the winter season! 

When can you see blue whales in San Diego?

Blue whales are more likely to be seen in the summer months, from June to September. This is the time of year when they migrate from Central America to California. If you want to see blue whales, book your whale watching tour for the summer! 

How long are whale watching cruises?

They are usually about three and a half or four hours long. This includes time for boarding, the cruise itself, and disembarking. 

What should you bring on a whale watching cruise?

Be sure to dress in layers as the weather can change quickly out on the water. It is also a good idea to bring sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, binoculars and cameras. And don’t forget your sense of adventure! 

Will you see dolphins on the cruise in San Diego?

It is very likely!  San Diego is home to a large population of common dolphins. They often swim alongside the whales, so you may get to see them up close. 

What other wildlife will you see on the tour?

In addition to dolphins and whales, you might see California sea lions, seals, pelicans, birds and more. Keep your eyes peeled and your binoculars handy! San Diego is home to some of the best wildlife in the state.  

What is the best time of day for whale watching?

The best time of day for whale watching is usually early morning or late afternoon. This is when the sun is not as harsh and the whales are more active. 

When is whale watching season in San Diego?

The whale watching season in San Diego runs from mid-December to early April. This is when the gray whales migrate from Alaska to Baja California. The blue whale season runs from June to September, when they migrate from Central America to California.