When Is the Best Time
Monterey is an excellent place for whale watching. The most common question is: When do you see which whale species? Luckily it's possible to see whales throughout the year.
The Monterey whale watching season for gray whales runs from December to May. They migrate to California during the winter to give birth to calves. Humpback whales can be spotted year-round in Monterey Bay.
The best time for whale watching in Monterey Bay is in the winter months. You can spot humpback whales and the fascinating gray whales between December and May.
Whale Watching in Monterey by Month
Photo by Dustin Brookshire. Visit his INSTAGRAM
January is a great time of year to spot gray whales and humpback whales, especially as the middle weeks of the month coincide with the peak of the gray whale migration. Other marine life that can be seen at this time include several species of dolphin and the occasional pod of Killer Whales. Weather: 58°F (average high) and 8 rainy days.
In February, gray whales and humpback whales are common sightings. Dolphin species such as Risso’s Dolphins and Pacific White-sided Dolphins can be seen in large pods and, if you’re lucky, you may spot Killers Whales. Weather: 60°F (average high) and 8 rainy days.
March is still an excellent month to spot migrating gray whales as they begin to move northwards up the coast, sometimes with calves in tow. Humpback whales and a variety of dolphin species are common during this time, while the rarer gray whale may also be seen. Weather: 61°F (average high) and 8 rainy days.
During April, Killer Whales start to become more prevalent in the Monterey area, often in matriarchal pods. Alongside this species, possible sightings in this month might include humpback whales, gray whales with calves and numerous dolphin species. April tends to be the windiest month in Monterey, so it’s best to come prepared with suitable clothing. Weather: 62°F (average high) and 4 rainy days.
In May, humpbacks are the most abundant species of whale and can sometimes be seen breaching spectacularly out of the water. This month is also the first time during the year when blue whales can be sighted in Monterey. Weather: 63°F (average high) and 2 rainy days.
June is a great month to see humpbacks, which are often spotted on a daily basis. There are also chances to see blue whales and gray whales as they feed off the coast, as well as many dolphin species. Weather: 65°F (average high) and 0 rainy days.
In July, sightings of humpback whales and blue whales – the largest animal on Earth – generally reach their peak. Large pods of dolphins are also common, sometimes being spotted in numbers up to 1000. Weather: 66°F (average high) and 0 rainy days.
August can produce a range of sightings, as many marine species are active in the Monterey area. Blue whales and humpbacks are still frequent visitors. Other species to spot include Minke Whales and gray whales. Weather: 68°F (average high) and 0 rainy days.
In September, humpback whales are the most common sighting and are often seen on a daily basis. Blue whales start to become less prevalent during this month, however Killer Whales can sometimes be seen feeding. September is generally a very still month in Monterey and the lack of wind makes it great for whale watching. Weather: 70°F (average high) and 0 rainy days.
October regularly produces excellent weather conditions for spotting marine life and many whales can be seen moving along the coast. This can often be the best month to see gray whales, although this species tends to stay further from the shore. Humpbacks are regular sightings. Weather: 68°F (average high) and 2 rainy days.
November is often your last chance to see blue whales before they begin to migrate to other feeding grounds. Also in the area during this month are humpbacks, rare sightings of gray whales and a few early gray whales. Weather: 63°F (average high) and 5 rainy days.
Wrapping up the year, December becomes an excellent time to spot gray whales as they return from their winter feeding grounds in the Arctic. Humpback whales and Killer Whales are also common sightings for those happy to brave the cooler temperatures during this month. Weather: 58°F (average high) and 7 rainy days.
Best Whale Watching Tours
Winter and Spring Whale Watching
Photo by Echo Beluga on flickr
- Winter Months: December – February, Spring Months: March – May
- Highlights: Gray whale, Humpback Whale
Winter is a golden opportunity to see gray whales in Monterey. These magnificent creatures spend the summer months in the cold waters of the Arctic, but return to Baja California in order to mate and give birth to calves. Gray whales have one of the longest mammalian migrations on record, averaging incredible distances of up to 14,000 miles. They are a very curious species and will sometimes come right up to boats, offering truly fantastic experiences for whale watchers. Humpback whales can also be seen during the winter months, as some choose to stay in Monterey to capitalise on the abundance of food. Dolphin species such as Risso’s Dolphin and the Pacific White-sided Dolphin are also common sightings.
As winter turns to spring, gray whales continue to grace the seas of Monterey. Having spent a few months raising their calves, they begin to migrate northwards again, granting unique opportunities to see young whales travelling with their mothers. This is also peak Killer Whale season. Also known as orcas, Killer Whales are the largest species in the dolphin family and are known for being skilled hunters with complex social systems. And while their presence can sometimes scare other marine life away, seeing one of the most intelligent animals in the seas can still be an amazing experience. Other sightings include dolphins, seals and the occasional shark.
Summer and Fall Whale Watching
Photo by Echo Beluga on flickr
- Summer Months: June – August, Fall Months: September – November
- Highlights: blue whale, Humpback Whale
Cold water currents during summer bring upwellings of nutrients to the Californian coast. These nutrients cause explosions in plankton populations, which in turn provide rich feeding opportunities for even the largest of marine species – the blue whale. Often seen in pairs, these majestic animals have become more common in recent years and are a highlight for any whale watcher. Humpbacks are regularly sighted daily during summer, but make sure to also watch out for rarer species such as gray whales, Sunfish and turtles.
The fall months tend to bring about the best weather conditions in Monterey, with mild temperatures, clear days and little to no rain. While present all year round, humpbacks can be easily spotted during this time and can provide truly spectacular sights. Humpbacks know how to put on a show, regularly engaging in behaviours such as breaching – where they launch themselves completely out of the water – and tail slapping. A few late blue whales can also be seen, while fall can be one of the best times for gray whales.
Where and Tips
Whale watching in Monterey is an amazing experience. Read our complete guide with tips for each month.
Differences between Monterey Whale Watching and San Diego
The calm waters of Monterey Bay tend to attract more whales due to rich upwellings of nutrients in the bay and the opportunity for the whales to rest in shallower water. There is also a great diversity of other marine life in Monterey, such as turtles, sea lions and sea otters. However, San Diego can be particularly good for spotting Gray Whales during winter and Blue Whales during Summer.