Long Beach Whale Watching with Harbor Breeze
The waters off Long Beach make for some of the best whale watching in the world. Perhaps no one knows this better than Dan Salas whose Harbor Breeze Cruises has been providing daily whale excursions for more than 20 years. In that time, he and his passengers have experienced all manner of interactions with whales, orcas, dolphins and myriad other sea and wildlife; interactions that, though sometimes brief, are transformative bordering on magical.
“It happened just the other day,” Salas said. “We were out and the weather was perfect. A blue whale showed up and that’s when I saw this woman standing just outside the pilot house. It was the first time she had ever seen a blue whale and her face, her smile, could not have been any bigger. She was changed, you could see it, she was in a state of complete wonderment.”
It was the first time she had ever seen a blue whale ... She was changed, you could see it, she was in a state of complete wonderment.”
Though Salas says he is still wowed by the animals they encounter, he says he finds himself even more excited by the reaction of his customers.
“The feeling I get when I see a whale never goes away, it’s still exciting for me,” he said. “But I get even more excited now for our passengers. You’re rooting for them to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Harbor Breeze Cruises (100 Aquarium Way) offers daily morning and afternoon whale watching excursions which last about 2 ½ hours in duration and leave from Dock #2 at Rainbow Harbor, located pretty much next door to the Aquarium of the Pacific. Its fleet of state-of-the-art, whale watching vessels are designed specifically with a passenger’s experience in mind. Each is equipped with what amounts to stadium seating that allows passengers to get a good view of the water and the creatures who call it home.
Mindful that the experience can feel out of reach by those concerned about sea sickness, Salas commissioned the construction of three boats specifically designed to reduce bounce, and with increased stability to lessen the chances of motion illness. Another feature on the boats is that each whale excursion is accompanied by a marine educator from the Aquarium of the Pacific.
“We operate the boats and basically turn it over to them,” Salas said. “They have a wealth of knowledge; they answer questions, walk people through all the information on whales, dolphins, the topography. These people know everything.”
James Stewart, the Aquarium’s Boat Program Coordinator, says one of the most common questions he and his colleagues are asked is when the best time is for whale watching.
“I tell them, whenever you want,” Steward said.”There are whales and dolphins year-round. You can pick the time of year to reflect what species you plan on looking for. Summer is best for blue whales, winter and spring for gray whales, year-round we find fin whales (though winters are better), humpbacks tend to be more numerous in summer and fall but we'll see them most times of the year.”
The wealth of whale activity in and in and around the waters off Long Beach have everything to do with three major deep water canyons as deep as 2000 feet that contain krill, whales main source of nutrition.
“Not far off the shoreline the sea floor drops quickly, leading to underwater cliffs, valleys, and mountains, the sea floor landscape is just as dynamic as the Sierra Nevada mountains,” Stewart said. “These cliffs and mountains help create a phenomenon called upwelling. Surface winds and currents move the water, even at great depth, into these vertical currents that pull nutrient rich waters up from the depths to feed the plankton at the surface. Who in turn are eaten by bigger plankton, and then fish, and so on.”
Of course, those same waters are teeming with all manner of sea life. Both Salas and Stewart have thought about, and heard passengers discuss why it is people are so particularly drawn to whales. Yes, they say, it has something to do with size–the blue whale is the largest animal on earth, ever–but they believe it goes, well, deeper than that.
“It’s the almost elusive feel of us spying on them, I believe, aids in the awe and mystique of whales,” Stewart said. “Knowing these giants are mammals, like humans, I think helps people to connect to them. We want to see our own feelings and emotions in them.”
And Salas says he never gets tired of seeing those feelings and emotions activated on the expressions of his passengers.
“The biggest thrill we get is seeing the thrill they get,” he said.
“We want to do everything we can to make sure people can have this experience, because once they do, we know they’ll never forget it.”