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When and Where Do I Look to See Orcas?

by on March 13, 2014

orca at Farallon Islands
Transient orcas are regularly seen in Monterey Bay, but it's much less common to spot them in the open water between the coast and the Farallon Islands. (Photo by David Wimpfheimer, calnaturalist.com)

Mollie McDowell from San Francisco writes with this question: I’m trying to spot some orcas this year and wanted to know when and where I should look. I know the transient pod hangs out around Monterey Bay looking for gray whales during their migration — are they commonly seen in Farallon Islands as well? Or are they just occasionally spotted in these two locations?

For an answer, we turned to the “California Naturalist,” David Wimpfheimer, who for three decades has led natural history tours, whale-watching trips and outdoor excursions throughout California. Here’s David:

“Orcas are more commonly seen in Monterey Bay than the Farallones. Although these are transient pods, probably there are some orcas there at anytime during the year.

Monterey Bay Whale Watch is an organization that does boat trips to see cetaceans and their web site is a good source of information.
Calling them [(831) 375-4658] can always be a good way of getting current sightings.

Shearwater Journeys does trips in Monterey Bay, although not as often and they are more focused on seabirds.

Oceanic Society does boat trips to the Gulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary mostly between May and November when the cetacean variety is at its greatest. Their web site is also a good source of information.

Point Reyes Field Institute does a couple of trips to the Cordell Bank to look for whales and seabirds in the fall.

Looking for any whales, especially uncommon ones like killer whales, always involves a fair amount of luck. Do not be disappointed if you don’t see them on your first trip. Be prepared to go out more than once and your chances will be increased.”

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Jeff Miller on March 14th, 2014 at 11:32 am

People should be aware that Monterey Bay Whale Watch was recently fined for violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act for illegally feeding orcas. Please do not patronize companies that violate wildlife protection laws!

Other companies that do whale watching trips besides the ones David mentioned are:
Sanctuary Cruises, which does trips to Monterey Bay from Moss Landing – http://www.sanctuarycruises.com

SF Bay Whale Watching, which does trips to the Farallones from San Francisco

Alvaro’s Adventures also does pelagic birding trips out of Half Moon Bay, with potential to see whales and (maybe) orcas – http://alvarosadventures.com/

Jeff Miller on March 14th, 2014 at 11:33 am

Here is an article about the co-owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch illegally feeding orcas: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-biologist-pleads-guilty-feeding-killer-whales-20140114,0,5625272.story#axzz2vxlrYwaS

Ameet Zaveri on May 7th, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Blue Ocean Whale Watch is another good operator for whale watching trips in Monterey Bay, out of Moss Landing.

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