Watch and Photograph Whales Year-Round on California’s Monterey Bay

monterey bay whale watching tours
Watch whales year-round in Monterey Bay on the California coast

Located off the coast of California south of San Francisco, and on the 10,000-mile migration route of the gray whale, Monterey Bay is one of the best whale watching locations in the U.S. Whales are present virtually year-round. The seven outfitters profiled below provide Monterey Bay whale watching tours. For the 12 other top whale watching locations in the U.S. along with outfitters who provide whale watching tours in those locations Click Here.

A Brief Intro to Monterey Bay Whale Watching

The size of Monterey Bay is 6,094 square miles, or about the size of Connecticut. The shoreline is 276 miles or about one-fourth of California’s coast. The City of Monterey is on the south end, Santa Cruz is on the north and Moss Landing is in the middle. The bay is home or a transient location for whales, dolphins, sea otter, great white sharks, sea lions, and other marine creatures that feed on the bay’s abundant supply of fish and plankton. Whales feed on the bay’s plankton, krill, squid, and anchovies, all in plentiful supply. Monterey Bay is on the migratory path of Gray and Humpback whales. Gray whales migrate from their breeding ground in the warm waters off the coast of Mexico to their feeding grounds in the cold Arctic seas, a total distance of 10,000 to 12,000 miles, making it the longest migration route of any mammal. See an interactive map of the Gray Whales migration route along the Pacific coast. The season for gray whale migration is mid-December to April. Humpback and blue whales are present year-round. Monterey Canyon, the largest underwater canyon on the west coast, begins at Moss Landing in the center of the Monterey Bay coastline. The canyon is the home to kelp forests where gray whales find protection for themselves and their calves from attacks by orca “killer” whales.

Outfitters providing guided Monterey Bay whale watching tours are profiled in alphabetical order.

Blue Ocean Whale Watch

monterey bay whale watching tours
Blue Ocean Whale Watch

Blue Ocean Whale Watch tours depart from Moss Landing Harbor in the center of the coastline of Monterey Bay and close to the start of Monterey Canyon. Tours are designed to appeal to families, eco-tourists, and photographers. The tour boat has a high top deck area with a 360-degree view and an indoor space with panoramic viewing windows. Seasonal viewing: SPRING humpback whales and gray whales; SUMMER humpback whales and blue whales; FALL humpback whales and blue whales; WINTER gray whales and common dolphins.

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Chris’ Whale Watching

monterey bay whale watching tours
Chris’ Whale Watching

Leaving from Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, Chris’ Whale Watching offers year-round Monterey Bay whale watching tours. The outfitter operates the 68-foot Star of Monterey, the 57-foot Check Mate, and the 51-foot Caroline. All boats are twin-engine and are U.S. Coast Guard approved with standard life-saving equipment, marine radios, sonar, and radar.

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Discovery Whale Watch

monterey bay whale watching tours
Discovery Whale Watch

Trips depart from Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey Harbor daily. Trips are narrated by a marine biologist or naturalist who discusses marine wildlife and the natural history of the area. While on the tours the naturalist collects sighting data for sharing with others about the whales and other marine life in the bay. Monterey Bay whale watching tours generally last 3.5 to 4 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon. A professional photographer usually accompanies each trip to photograph the whale watching activity and provide advice on photographing marine wildlife from aboard a boat. Sunrise photography trips depart every Wednesday at 5:30 am and return at 12:30 pm. Discovery Whale Watch connects guests to HappyWhale which encourages individuals to identify individual marine mammals by photography and participate in tracking and track their paths around the world.

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Monterey Bay Whale Watch

monterey bay whale watching tours
Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Monterey Bay Whale Watch tours leave from Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. In addition to looking for whales, the focus of each trip is learning about the whales and their environment. The tours are led by marine biologists who narrate the tours and answer questions. The trips are educationally oriented and collect data on marine mammals sighted during the trips including the number sighted, locations, and behavior. Individual whales and dolphins are photo-identified as part of an ongoing process to document populations, residency and migration patterns. The length of the Monterey Bay whale watching tours varies depending on the season. Extended eight-and-twelve-hour trips are available to allow for covering a larger area.

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Princess Monterey Whale Watching

monterey bay whale watching tours
Princess Monterey Whale Watching

Leaving from Fisherman’s Wharf, Princess Monterey Whale Watching operates the two largest whale watching boats on Monterey Bay, the 100-foot Princess Monterey, and the 100-foot Greatland. Both boats have indoor heated cabins and indoor and outdoor seating, and a snack bar. The narrated tour lasts 2.5 to 3 hours. December through April see the gray whale migration along the “Gray Whale Highway.” April through November see fin whales, minke whales, orcas, and blue whales in the feeding grounds of Monterey Bay. Princess Monterey Whale Watching claims a 98-99% successful sighting record year round. If you don’t see a whale or a dolphin the outfitter will issue a rain check for another trip at a later date.

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Sanctuary Cruises Monterey Bay Whale Watching

monterey bay whale watching tours
Sanctuary Cruises

Sanctuary Cruises departs from Moss Landing in the middle of the Monterey Bay coastline and the entrance to Monterey Submarine Canyon. The operator runs whale watching tours year-round and records a 95% success rate for sighting whales or dolphins. Seasons are Spring: gray whales, humpbacks, orcas, dolphins; Summer: blue whales, humpbacks, orcas, dolphins; Fall: humpbacks, orcas, dolphins; Winter: gray whales, orcas, dolphins. With its location at Moss Landing Harbor, the outfitter can enter deep water immediately where the slopes of the canyon provide feeding grounds for marine mammals. Sanctuary Cruises’ tour boat is the Sanctuary, a 43-foot Delta Marine twin-engine. It has a 39-passenger capacity but the outfitter limits the number of passengers to 39 percent of capacity to improve the viewing experience. Seating is available inside and out.

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Sea Goddess Monterey Bay Whale Watching Tours

monterey bay whale watching tours
Sea Goddess Whale Watching

Tours depart from Moss Landing at the mouth of Monterey Bay Canyon where the nutrient-rich waters attract all types of marine life. The outfitter is so confident of the whale watching productivity of its location that it offers guaranteed whale sightings year-round. The Sea Goddess vessel has a 360 walk-around deck that appeals to photographers.

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About Brown's Guide 238 Articles

Brown’s Guides is a website about the top outdoor experiences in America and about the professional outfitters and guides who know them best. BG selects guides and outfitters located in or in close proximity to the Natural Areas they provide activities in. These outfitters know the areas and care about protecting and preserving them in a way that outfitters based in other states never can. Hiking, biking, sea kayaking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and over 100 other outdoor activities are indexed on the site. BG has been doing this type of thing since 1972 in books, magazines, maps and on the Internet.

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