Everyone has that one thing they must do when they get the chance to visit a certain place. For us, in San Diego, we knew it would finally be our chance to, just maybe, see a whale in the open water. We have experienced many dolphin cruises over the years in the Gulf of Mexico and were looking for something that would be a bit different for this experience. After briefly looking over a few tour options, we registered for a dolphin and whale tour with Adventure RIB Rides. This would be a switch from the usual boat rides in that we would be taking this dolphin and whale excursion in a small rigid-inflatable boat. Erica thought this was a totally crazy idea, but I convinced her that it would be a blast.
When is the best time to see whales in San Diego?
Thousands migrate from Alaska every year to give birth and give their young time to gain the strength necessary for the journey home. It is said the best times to view whales are between mid-June through December. However, we saw a grey whale on our tour at the end of May and we were told several were spotted the day before. If you’re going in the off peak season, just ask around, people will tell you if they have been seen recently.
Meeting Point – Dolphin and Whale Tour
We arrived at the meeting point (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina) dock around 8:45 am to meet our tour guide. After initial introductions with our small group of 6 which included us, we were escorted into a small office by the dock where we had to sign a liability release. At this time, we were also each given a pair of waterproof coveralls that although were not mandatory, were highly recommended. No one was exactly thrilled to dress in such heavy, ill-fitting attire, but everyone agreed it was best to heed the guide’s advice. And yes, they were totally worth wearing because they kept us warm.
Where to sit on the RIB Boat
Erica and I were placed up front because we were the last in line and the smallest, which meant for an overall more rocky experience. Therefore, if you can, sit in the back. The views are fantastic from any seat and you will also be able to move around when stopped looking at wildlife.
U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP)
The ride started off initially as just a normal leisurely boat ride. We slowly drifted past the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP) where we got passing views of the trainers at work. NMMP is based in San Diego and is where dolphins and sea lions are trained for things such as mine detection, equipment recovery and harbor and ship protection. We were aware of the program’s existence, so were fascinated by the glimpses we got as we slowly drifted by.
We also got a glimpse of other Navy boats.
It’s a rough ride!
After we made our way further out into the Pacific Ocean, our guide picked up speed. This is where the ride started to get rough. It literally felt like riding a mechanical bull! It is when you will either feel exhilaration or want nothing more than for it to be over. Both of us felt as though we might fall out at any moment, but of course we managed to stay in.
After only a few minutes out on the water, we sighted a few sea lions sunning themselves on a buoy. We were excited because this was the first time we had ever seen them in their natural habitat. The guide stopped the boat to give us a chance to snap some pictures before continuing the tour in search of dolphins and whales.
Another thirty minutes went by speeding through the open ocean at a high speeds, bouncing our seats in the boat before a fellow passenger alerted our guide of a possible dolphin sighting. The guide stopped the boat to give everyone a chance to see what turned out to be a megapod of dolphins and a few nursing pods. Everyone was encouraged to get up and walk to the very front of the boat for the best possible viewing opportunities. The ones that did, got an amazing show. It was a truly a magical sight to experience! See that here or down below.
After spending about an hour watching the dolphins, we left to head back in in our final opportunity for a whale sighting. Our guide explained to us that even though whale season was technically over, chances were good we would spot a few because the water had been warmer than usual. We spotted a grey whale after few minutes in an area of an earlier sighting . However, we had already been out in the water over two hours, so we watched it from a distance for about ten minutes before heading back in for the day. When we were safely back to our docking point, Erica was more than ready to get off the boat while I felt like I could have continued the trip all day.
Things to know before you go:
- If you have any type of back/neck issue, think twice before booking. Erica has a slipped disk and had trouble walking the next day.
- Consider taking Dramamine beforehand. Even if the ocean looks calm at first glance, the swells are bigger than you might think. In addition, the ride is rough at times and there are a few long stops where the boat rocks along with the swell of the water which made some sick.
- Do not leave your camera at home because you’ll want theses memories to last a long time.
- Tip money. The guide will be instrumental to your tour and you will want to reward them for their hard work.