For decades, whale watching has been popular along the coast of Southern California among naturalists, conservationists and local enthusiasts. In 1950 it became official when San Diego’s Cabrillo National Monument was designated as a public spot for observing the Eastern Pacific, or California grey, whale.
Each year approximately 20,000 grey whales make the annual 10,000-mile round-trip journey from the Bering Sea in Alaska to the warm waters and breeding lagoons of the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico from December through May. And the Palos Verdes Peninsula is known as a prime whale-watching spot.
“The peninsula is a super highway for whales, and there are so many great lookout points,” says Lauren Bergloff, sustainability leader at Terranea Resort who leads complimentary nature walks. “I tell the Terranea story, the history of the peninsula, and all about the plants and animals in the area. I’m able to show people some hidden gems. During whale season, you can actually see whales from the coastline.”
At nearby Point Vicente Interpretive Center, a group of observers and experts from the American Cetacean Society are on the outdoor deck daily conducting an annual whale census. Inside the 10,000-square-foot oceanfront facility, visitors peruse exhibits on the history of the peninsula and learn all about grey whales. There’s even a life-size model of a calf inside.
For a more in-depth, on-water experience, Terranea Resort guests can opt for a whale watching tour with Harbor Breeze Cruises in Long Beach. The company, owned by Captain Dan Salas, features an 83-foot-long, high-tech catamaran with tiered, stadium-style seating for unobstructed views.
The eco-friendly catamaran has a high-efficiency hull design with a hydrofoil wing lifting system and EPA Tier II compliant engines. It utilizes 30% to 40% less fuel than other passenger vessels.
Located next to the Aquarium of the Pacific, daily 2½- to three-hour tours are conducted by aquarium marine mammal educators. In addition to grey whales, guests may see orcas, humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales and other marine life spouting, fluking and breaching year-round.
“It’s kind of like a theatre, and the captains are very well-studied,” adds Lauren. “And they communicate with other companies to find out where the whales are.”
Be sure to bring binoculars, a camera, sunscreen and a jacket.
Whale Watching 101: Tips from Lauren
1. Look Closely
“Look for the blow or mist from the whale’s blowhole when they are breathing,” says Lauren, who majored in environmental studies at University of California, Santa Barbara. “When it is a grey whale, it looks like a heart-shaped blow and it’s a big mist or vapor.” And listen up. Many times the sound comes before the actual mist.
2. Practice Patience
It can take time to spot a whale, so be sure to scan from left to right slowly.
3. Water World
If there are other boats lingering in one spot, take notice. Likely there are whales in the area.
4. Follow The Footprints
“Footprints are the shadows that are left behind when the whales dive back down in the water,” explains Lauren. Look for this as a good indicator of a whale nearby.
Best Terranea Views for Whale Watching
“If you don’t want to get on a boat, you don’t have to,” says Lauren. “Once it’s grey whale season, you can see whales right from the patio at Nelson’s while having lunch or watching the sunset. There’s a bell outside that people can ring when they spot a whale, and everyone comes together to watch. It’s so fun. To me, it’s really special for people to be able to experience that, whether they are here on vacation or they live close by.”
The Spa at Terranea
“One of the best spots to view whales on-property is on the trail right in front of the spa,” says Lauren. “The whales are so close to you, and it’s just magical. There have been times on guided hikes where I hear the blow before I even see them. And when we go kayaking from the beach cove to the Point Vicente Lighthouse, it’s a marine protected area so we also see everything from sea lions to bottlenose dolphins.”
“You are able to see whales at almost every point along our native plant coastal trail!”
“One of my colleagues says her favorite place to bartend at Terranea is cielo point pool, because she can whale watch while working.”