The Humpback Whale
and 
Whale-Watching Tours

Seeing a humpback whale in the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of California, Washington or Oregon is often the highlight of a whale-watching tour.

About one-third of the world's population of humpback whales can be found in the North Pacific Ocean, and whale-watching is a very popular activity along the Pacific Coast from Puget Sound in Washington down to southern California and on into Mexico.

Tail of a humpback whale in Monterey Bay, California

This humpback's tail was photographed in Monterey Bay but you can get equally good sightings in many places, either by taking a whale-watching cruise or watching from the shore.

Humpbacks are inquisitive creatures and will often come take a look at any boats in the neighborhood. There are about 70,000 humpbacks in the world, and anything from 10-25,000 of these are in the North Pacific. Other whales are more common, like blue whales and Pacific gray whales, but seeing a humpback breach the water is a sight that will stay with you forever.

Our Pick of the California Guides

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If you see humpbacks hitting the water surface with their flukes or their flippers, they're probably fishing. The effect of these slaps (a mature humpback weighs almost 80,000 lbs) is to stun the fish in the vicinity, making for an easy meal for the whale.

Another fishing technique used by groups of humpbacks working together is known as bubble net fishing. The whales swim in circles while blowing bubbles, forming a ring that the fish are reluctant to penetrate.

The whales close in and make the circle smaller and smaller, while other whales swim underneath to keep the fish trapped. Then suddenly the whales will break and swim right through the packed schools of fish, mouths open to swallow the rich pickings.

Whale Watching
See our 
Whale Watching in California page

Some other wildlife pages

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel explains where to watch salmon spawning along the Pacific coast of California, Oregon, and Washington.

    Salmon Spawning along the Pacific Coast

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel explains where to watch salmon spawning along the Pacific coast of California, Oregon, and Washington.

  • A walk around the Point Lobos State Reserve near Monterey and Carmel provides lots of photo opportunities, especially of the Harbor Seal Birthing Area.

    Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel and Monterey, with photos

    A walk around the Point Lobos State Reserve near Monterey and Carmel provides lots of photo opportunities, especially of the Harbor Seal Birthing Area.

  • SeaWorld in San Diego is the original marine theme park, featuring killer whales, dolphins, shark encounters, manatee rescue, and Journey to Atlantis.

    SeaWorld San Diego

    SeaWorld in San Diego is the original marine theme park, featuring killer whales, dolphins, shark encounters, manatee rescue, and Journey to Atlantis.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Travel recommends some of the top wildlife spots along the California coast.

    Top Wildlife Spots on the California Coast

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel recommends some of the top wildlife spots along the California coast.

  • Santa Barbara whale watching cruises in southern California can be booked through Condor Express, with whale watching trips leaving from the harbor.

    Santa Barbara Whale Watching

    Santa Barbara whale watching cruises in southern California can be booked through Condor Express, with whale watching trips leaving from the harbor.

  • Whale watching coupons offering a big discount are available now in Newport Beach for cheap whale watching cruises with Newport Landing Whale Watching.

    Whale Watching Coupons in Newport Beach

    Whale watching coupons offering a big discount are available now in Newport Beach for cheap whale watching cruises with Newport Landing Whale Watching.

  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row is one of the top sights in Monterey and along the whole Pacific Coast Highway.

    Monterey Bay Aquarium

    The Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row is one of the top sights in Monterey and along the whole Pacific Coast Highway.

  • Whale watching in California is one of the most popular things to do along the Pacific Coast Highway, in places like San Diego, San Francisco and many more.

    Whale Watching in California

    Whale watching in California is one of the most popular things to do along the Pacific Coast Highway, in places like San Diego, San Francisco and many more.

  • San Diego whale watching tours like this from Hornblower Cruises let visitors get up close to see gray whales, dolphins, sea lions and other wildlife.

    San Diego Whale Watching

    San Diego whale watching tours like this from Hornblower Cruises let visitors get up close to see gray whales, dolphins, sea lions and other wildlife.

  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a partner of San Diego Zoo and offers the chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat with a wide range of safaris on offer.

    San Diego Zoo Safari Park

    San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a partner of San Diego Zoo and offers the chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat with a wide range of safaris on offer.

  • The La Jolla Aquarium, officially known as the Birch Aquarium at Scripps overlooks the Pacific Ocean, with sea creatures from seahorses to sharks.

    La Jolla Aquarium

    The La Jolla Aquarium, officially known as the Birch Aquarium at Scripps overlooks the Pacific Ocean, with sea creatures from seahorses to sharks.

  • Whale watching trips and tours in San Diego are one of the California city's best activities but you can watch the whales from the San Diego shoreline too.

    Whale Watching from the San Diego Shoreline

    Whale watching trips and tours in San Diego are one of the California city's best activities but you can watch the whales from the San Diego shoreline too.

  • The Pacific Coast Highway wildlife on and off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington is one of the highlights of any trip.

    Pacific Coast Highway Wildlife

    The Pacific Coast Highway wildlife on and off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington is one of the highlights of any trip.

  • Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals Beach is near Hearst Castle, San Simeon and Cambria and is one of the best things to do when driving the Pacific Coast Highway.

    Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals Beach

    Piedras Blancas Elephant Seals Beach is near Hearst Castle, San Simeon and Cambria and is one of the best things to do when driving the Pacific Coast Highway.

  • The Florence Sea Lion Caves are one of the best wildlife attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway, north of Florence and south of Yachats.

    Florence Sea Lion Caves

    The Florence Sea Lion Caves are one of the best wildlife attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway, north of Florence and south of Yachats.



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