whale watching

Whale Watching 101

Patience…patience… WAIT! What’s THAT?!

I suppose that I could put some amazing photo of a whale breaching here at the top of this article as “click bait.” But most whales are not bait – for anything.

No, the cold hard fact is that I didn’t see a whale magically fly out of the ocean, rotate and splash down like they do so nicely for the Pacific Life insurance commercials. (How did they get the whale to do that in under 30 seconds?!)

Watching the ocean to hopefully watch a whale at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center in Racho Palos Verdes.

When looking for whales, you need to bring your patience hat… and coat… and umbrella. All were necessary just this past Sunday when I headed out to the Point Vicente Interpretive Center in Rancho Palos Verdes to look for some migrating whales. Specifically, Pacific Grey whales.

It’s that time of year, everyone! Get out to the coast because the odds of seeing whales during their peek migration season are really good! The two best places to see whales in the greater LA area are Pt. Dume in Malibu http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=623 and Point Vicente in PV https://www.rpvca.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/Point-Vicente-Interpretive-Center-13

However, whale watching reminds me of why they call it “fishing” and not “catching.” Emphasis on the “watching.” Watching the ocean for something that might be a whale for long stretches of time.

Fortunately, the amazing people of the American Cetacean Society have your back! Or should I say fluke? These volunteers are there during ALL daylight hours with their binoculars, monoculars and telescopes keeping track of it all. They are dedicated to “protecting cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and their habitat since 1967. We achieve these goals through public education, research grants and conservation action.” https://acs-la.org

These volunteers are experts at spotting whales. “There, a blow!” Then they give a number that corresponds with the fence posts below so that you can line it up. Genius!

They have charts and maps on hand and helpfully explain the 10,000-mile round-trip migration story from arctic seas to the mating and calving lagoons in Baja California, Mexico.

And they are more than happy to answer the novices like myself who approach often saying, “See any whales today?” Then the guy who’s been sitting there for SIX hours might say, “Yep, we saw one about 45 minutes ago.”

I was fortunate on this very windy Sunday to see a whale tail within the first 20 minutes of my arrival. Then about 20 minutes later a blow and the back of the same whale. It was a very windy day making the ocean quite choppy. With conditions like this its very hard to pick out a blow or a fluke and keep it in view.

Whether just a tail, fluke, blow or a pod of dolphins, it’s a magical experience. The watching for a whale to watch makes the event of actually seeing one of these giants even that much more wonderful. And with enough patience you will almost certainly a whale and that whale just might do this. (Sorry, couldn’t resist)


Ted Mattison, also known as Ranger Ted, is a Certified California Naturalist, trained in Wilderness First Aid, and has explored, hiked, canoed and kayaked extensively from his home state of Minnesota to Alaska, Washington and California. He’s a graduate of Oberlin College and a former Social Studies teacher. Ted has been a working actor, director, producer and acting teacher in Los Angeles for 25 years. He is the founder of Wonder Outside with Ranger Ted and lives in Huntington Beach with his wife and two daughters. For more info please visit http://www.rangerted.net

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