Ask the Naturalist

When and Where Do I Look to See Orcas?

March 13, 2014

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.”

About the Author

Eric Simons is a former digital editor at Bay Nature. He is author of The Secret Lives of Sports Fans and Darwin Slept Here, and is coauthor, with Tessa Hill, of At Every Depth: Our Growing Knowledge of the Changing Oceans.

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