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Channel Islands Whale Watching

Whales and dolphins put on a show in the Santa Barbara Channel

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Whale-watching tours that run between the Ventura coast and the Channel Islands are almost always eventful. Of the 78 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises in the world, 29 have been spotted near the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Even if a gray, blue, or humpback whale doesn’t make an appearance, the tour boat captains can usually find a pod of dolphins—common, bottlenose, or Risso’s, as well as rafts of sea lions. Every now and then, a school of flying fish soars right over the boat.

The city of Oxnard, which is less than 10 miles from Channel Islands National Park, is a perfect home base for a whale-watching excursion. Island Packers offers both winter and summer three- to three-and-a-half-hour whale-watching cruises along the Santa Barbara Channel, with the option of extending your trip to a full day to land on Anacapa or Santa Cruz Island. Channel Islands Sportfishing has tours that run from late December through April.

When is the best time to spot whales? Gray whale season typically runs from late December until mid-April, when these 50-foot leviathans are making their annual migration from the Bering Sea to Mexico and back again. The summer months are the best times to see humpback whales and blue whales, which are attracted by abundant krill. Humpbacks are more common, but seeing a blue whale—the largest animal ever recorded on earth—is an experience you never forget. Measuring up to 90 feet long (the length of three school buses), the blue whale can spray water from its blowhole nearly 30 feet in the air.

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