We humans love to watch whales. But did you know whales might be watching us as well? It’s a behavior called skyhopping. Occasionally, a whale will lift its head eight to 10 feet above the surface by thrusting its tail flukes, then rotating slowly for 30 seconds or more before slipping back under the waves. Oceanographers believe whales and dolphins can see reasonably well above water, so don’t be surprised if they seem to be checking you out on your next whale-watching expedition.
A great place to observe skyhopping, breaching, spouting, and other whale behaviors is the Pacific waters off Orange County. The marine mammals can be viewed year round, but the most common sightings are of gray whales now through April.
Grays make one of the longest migrations of any mammal. They travel 10,000 to 12,000 miles from the cooler waters of the Chukchi and Bering seas to the warm lagoons of Baja California, where they mate and have their calves. In the spring, it’s possible to watch the young calves and their mothers making their return trip north.
Some of the best whale watching on the entire California coast is at Dana Point. Forty to 50 whales pass closely by the seaside city daily, using Dana Point Headlands’ 200-foot cliffs near the harbor as a landmark to check their path. You can even see the migration from the headlands’ Nature and Interpretive Center, a short drive up the hill from the harbor.
On March 7-8 and 14-15, the seaside city celebrates the offshore procession with its 44th Annual Festival of Whales, featuring a parade, fine-arts show and sale, historical walking tours, food booths, Polynesian culture events, classic cars and boats, lectures, and, of course, whale-watching expeditions. The Festival calendar describes all the happenings, including suggested boat-tour operators.
You can see the migratory fleet from various places along the Orange County coast, but a boat ride is the only way to get as close as federal law allows (100 yards). Types of vessels, dates, and prices vary, so call ahead or book online.