Up to about the year 2000, a Blue Whale sighting at Dana Point was unprecedented or even unknown. these whales are thought to be the largest creatures that have ever lived on the planet. It’s to our benefit, the Blue Whales have now decided to make the Dana Point area one of their favorite summer destinations. During the 2012, 13, and 14 seasons, Blues have started passing by Dana Point in June, then settled in to feed in early July. They stay with us until about October. These whales are here to feed on krill (small shrimp) that live in underwater canyons, about two to five miles off shore and about a five mile stretch up and down the coast. I wait until mid July to go out to see them when they are feeding. They are too fast to keep up with in a kayak when they are passing through.
It may seem intimidating to look for whales in a kayak five miles out to sea, however, in a way, the Blues are easy to watch because once you find them feeding, they pretty much, stay put, so you don’t have to chase them all over the place. Just be aware of changing weather conditions and plan your trip to take advantage of wind and wave direction on the way back in. I spot a Blue whale from a distance by looking for the fifteen to thirty foot tall spout. Blue Whales rarely breach or spy hop. They are so big, though, that a good part of their back will come out of the water when they breathe.
Here is the track I use to look for Blue Whales out of Dana Point Harbor; it’s easy. Start at the harbor entrance, note the time. Head for A Mark, (210 degrees magnetic, about one mile out). When you get to A Mark, note the time again. Now continue on the 210 degree heading for an equal amount of time that it took you to get to A Mark. This will put you about two miles off shore. At this point, decide to go up the coast (preferable) or down the coast, whichever direction looks the most promising. Look for other boats milling about, this usually means there are whales in the area. Always try to begin your return to the harbor going with the wind and waves.
Of course, on the way out, if you see a whale, head straight for it. Blues are here to feed, they usually stay in the same area for long periods of time. Once you spot one, you have a real good chance it will still be there when you get to the area.
Watching a Blue Whale is easy. When they are feeding, they dive deep for about five to ten minutes. When their dive is done they surface with a prominent spout and make a lot of noise blowing the air out. They stay on the surface, blowing about every 20 to 30 seconds while, usually, swimming in a large circle for about five minutes. When they are ready to dive back down, they arch their back and flip their tails (fluke) out of the water to get vertical. When the tail comes up out of the water for the dive, this is called “fluking”. It’s fantastic to see and is usually considered the “money shot” of whale watching. Nothing is more amazing than being close to a fifteen foot wide, two ton whale tail as it silently slips below the surface to begin a deep dive. Now, wait five to ten minutes, and the whale will do it again.
Some tips: 1. If you are following a whale and there are a lot of boats slowly going in one direction, hang back a couple hundred yards, the whales often double back on their path and will come up much closer to you; 2. Blue Whales often travel in pairs, look for the second one too; 3. If you find yourself very close to a Blue, you don’t want to be under the spout water when it comes down; for such a magnificent creature, they’ve got really bad breath.
Remember don’t harass the whales; Blue whales are so big it is hard to imagine a kayak can harass them, but if you cause them to change their feeding pattern, that’s harassment. I was once hanging back from the crowd, as mentioned above, when a Blue surfaced right next to me (20 feet). He just sat there and looked at me for about a minute, about the time it took the other boats to realize I was getting the interaction of a lifetime, then he slowly moved away as the other boats came rushing up. I just sat there as the whale seemed to be saying, “make them go away”. I felt a little sad when he swam off, but I did get some great surface and underwater shots with my GoPro camera.
Note: Fin Back Whales will often be in the same area and behave the same as Blue Whales.
Alan Harkness – Dana Point Kayaker
Disclosure – I am not an employee of Dana Point Jet Ski or any other business that stands to profit from this article. I am a volunteer Docent at the Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center. All information in this article is from my own experiences and opinion. I am not getting paid to write this article.