December - March
Winter Whale Watching
Whale watching in the winter is all about migration! Whales are moving to and fro, as they travel from their feeding grounds to their breeding grounds and back. We're lucky here in Santa Barbara to get to experience the longest mammalian migration on planet earth as Gray whales scoot past our coast. Data shows that we also have the best chance of encountering killer whales during this season as well.
Come aboard to enjoy their incredible trek.
Gray whales, nature's only true bottom-feeding whale, feed on small crab-like creatures in the shallow mud of the Alaskan Seas. During their migration to their breeding grounds in the lagoons of Baja California, they travel right past Santa Barbara, making it a great place to observe these magnificent whales. Our special tours, exclusive to the channel, offer a unique opportunity to witness the journey of the gray whales as they trek south right past the Channel Islands National Park from December-January. We're also fortunate to see them traveling back North right off our coast from February-May. Observing these whales in their natural habitat is always an intimate experience, and we strive to provide a safe and respectful environment for both the whales and our guests.
During the winter months, Killer Whales (Orca) have consistently appeared in the Santa Barbara channel, making it a great opportunity to observe these powerful animals in California waters. While their appearance cannot be guaranteed due to their elusive nature, decade-old logs have shown some regularity in their presence in the channel during the month of December. Common dolphins and sea lions are common prey for these apex predators, and observing them in action is a rare and humbling experience. To have the best chance of seeing them, requires time, patience, and dedication. We're committed to finding these elusive oceanic dolphins at every opportunity we get!
We're lucky enough to see an array of different dolphin species throughout the year. Both kinds of common dolphins, the short beaked and the long beaked are prevalent in the channel. Sometimes we see them in pods 10,000 strong! While they sometimes leave the channel in totality for inexplicable reasons, we often see them on every trip. We also see both kinds of bottlenose dolphin, inshore and offshore. Inshore bottlenose congregate in small pods, usually numbering half a dozen to a dozen individuals, while their offshore cousins can number in the hundreds. The inshore forms are also a little lighter and smaller than the more robust offshore cousins. The third dolphin species we see on our tours are Risso's dolphin. These exclusive squids eaters are beautifully scarred from the food they eat as well as each other. They have a very complex social structure and often rake each other with the 6-8 teeth they have on their lower jaw.