Whale watching is year-round activity off San Diego

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Once limited to the winter months, whale watching off San Diego is now a year-round activity that comes with a guarantee of a sighting.

On a recent day on the Pacific Ocean, it took just less than an hour away from the dock for Capt. Troy Sears, who operates one of the whale watching boats based in San Diego, to spot two juvenile gray whales meandering south toward Baja California.

Sears grew up in San Diego and remembers when whale watching was just during the winter.

Today the probability of seeing whales is near 100 percent, he said, and eight different species can be seen throughout the year, almost always in ideal weather and sea conditions.

An international moratorium on whale hunting in the 1980s, honored by most nations, helped change that.

“We stopped hunting these animals and guess what? They’ve come back. They are recovering and we get the benefit of that,” Sears said.

Gray and blue whales provide the most sightings off San Diego, followed by humpbacks and fins. Pilot, orcas, minke and sperm whales are less common. In February one tour operator reported sighting false killer whales.

Joe Terzi, president and CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority, recently said San Diego should be considered the world’s No. 1 destination for whale watching.

Information on whale watching is available on the Tourism Authority’s website sandiego.org.

Tour operators started seeing grays around the first of December, and there’s been an increase of about 50 percent this season. The last grays will be northbound cows and calves around the middle to end of May. By then, fins and humpbacks have come into the area. The first blue whales will show around the middle of April, with an abundance of fins and blues through the summer. The last blue whale departs around the time the first gray whales reach Southern California.

A number of two or more hour tours are available from San Diego. Whale watchers have a variety of boats to choose from ranging from Sear’s 139-foot sailboat America (Next Level Sailing), which is a unique way to watch the whales and dolphins, to one of Hornblower Cruises and Events large comfortable yachts which provide indoor and outdoor seating plus food and beverages. Most guarantee a sighting. If there isn’t one, passengers can return for a free trip.

Prices vary by operator, day of the week and length of trip from around $40 up to around $90 per person. Many operators offer specials which they post on their websites.

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