When you think of the California Coastline you likely think of sandy beaches and breathtaking cliff views. But on top of the serene views, the coast brings, it’s also home to a countless amount of wildlife throughout the year. Depending if you’re north or south you can find otters, sea lions, or dolphins hanging out at just about any beach. On top of that, the California Coast is on the migration route of a wide variety of whale species.
There are a variety of places to go whale watching along the coast, both in the north and south, but the Monterey Bay is hard to beat when you’re looking to witness wildlife in its natural habitat. I recently had a chance to get out on the bay with Fast Raft, a company that is providing a unique way to experience and learn about the wildlife.
I fell in love with whales when I was a young kid living in the midwest, long before I had a chance to meet them in real life. Going whale watching on the Monterey Bay was a great way to experience something I’ve been fascinated with my entire life.
Note: Some stays, tours, passes, and meals were provided at no cost to the author. As always, all opinions remain my own. You’ll find affiliate links in this post which allow me to continue to improve Traveling Nine to Fiver. I hope this article on whale watching on the Monterey Bay is useful for you.
Small Craft Whale Watching on the Monterey Bay
Normally, when you go whale watching you end up on a boat that exists high above the water and can fit a tour of thirty or so people. While these tours aren’t bad and still give you a chance to get out on the water, they can leave out some of the personal aspects that make up the best tours.
FastRaft is distinct in both the type of vessel they use and the size of it. Fast Raft operates on a raft that reminds more of high tech version of what you see used on marsh tours in Florida and similar areas. While extremely sturdy the raft keeps you low to the water. Meaning when the whales pop up 10 feet or so off the bow of the boat they are really only 10 feet from you, not another 10 due to you being up off the water.
This style of vessel gives you such a personal connection with the wildlife you’re seeing, all while not getting too close to put the animals at risk.
On top of the different style vessel, it’s also a much smaller one. The boat only fits six guests. This means you aren’t fighting for space on the rail to get good shots. It also means you’ll have personal conversations with your guides.
At FastRaft, you have guides who’ve spent their lives out on the water working with wildlife. Getting to know who is out in the water (they know some of the whales by name) and what is being done to protect them. Whether it’s the marine mammal species or the countless types of birds flying around, they can share with you what you’re seeing.
Beyond just what you are seeing they are able to share information on the different behaviors you’re witnessing. One thing we came across on my tour was a sea lion boil. Yep, a boil. It’s when the sea lions gather together in groups often in the hundreds and then dive deep to attack a school of fish. When they come back up for air all together it looks like they are boiling the water. They are also often joined by whales diving down for the fish just after they do.
Not only do you have knowledgeable guides on the tour, they are standing right next to you. There is no point where they will be out of earshot. This means you get to personalize what you’re learning. You can ask them just about anything you could think of on the tour and they’ll have the answer. Also, once I started asking questions they realized what I was interested in and shared interesting facts I didn’t even know to ask about.
You probably are going whale watching on the Monterey Bay to see whales, and the odds are good that you will, but there are many other types of wildlife you’ll have a chance to experience out on the bay.
It’s Monterey, so you’ll want to see otters. While everyone says they are actually pretty vicious from the safety of the boat they are just about the most adorable things in the world. On the raft we had a chance to see them not just floating around but also feeding, eating big giant worms.
As you head out you’ll begin to notice all the different types of birds that make up part of this ecosystem. There are seagulls, pelicans, and more. If birding is something that interests you, this trip is a must do for them alone. If you’re like me and don’t know as much you’ll still enjoy the chance to witness all the differences they offer.
On my trip out with Fast Raft, we also had a chance to see a large pod of harbor porpoises and watch them play. They enjoyed swimming around our boat and back and forth with each other. Watching them jump and play was one of my favorite things from the trip.
There is so much to see in the ecosystem of the Monterey Bay and that is just what shows itself above the surface.
Whales, Whales Whales
Now onto the whales. The California coast is a piece of the migration system for a variety of whale species, and the fun part is that there is no time of the year where we are without them. Now, you can’t guarantee that you will see them when you are on the trip but compared to most places you’ve got a very good chance to see them.
From May to November, you have the chance to see humpback whales, blue whales, fin whales, and minke whales. On my trip in mid-November, we saw a handful of humpbacks playing and feeding in the bay.
In the December to April season, you’ll be able to see the gray whales that migrate along the coast. On top of this, you’ll have a chance to see orcas (killer whales) any time of the year, but they are seen the most in April and May.
With Fast Raft, you get to witness these majestic animals in their native environment. Unlike the big ships, on Fast Raft they can turn the boat entirely off and remain very silent as the whales or dolphins play around you. As the vessel is much less invasive the whales will pop up closer than you can experience on the bigger ships.
You’ll have a chance to see them breaching up close, get great shots of their tails as the go for dives, and even smell their whale breath as they head away. You get to do all of this without putting the whales at any type of risk.
A Chance to Experience Wildlife Firsthand Whale Watching on the Monterey Bay
My trip out whale watching with Fast Raft has been my favorite yet. I’ve done a decent amount of whale watching over the years and there has been nothing like this trip before. I was able to see some of the wildlife that I love up close and personal. I even did a decent job not freaking out with the joy of getting to see these whales on such a personal scale.
Taking a trip with Fast Raft is not the cheapest way to go whale watching on the Monterey Bay, but it is distinctly different from what any of the other tour groups are offering. On your next trip down to the Monterey Bay area, you’ll want to make this your splurge item for the trip. It’s well worth staying at a little cheaper hotel or skipping the fancy dinner.
For more information about Monterey & Carmel check out these great books on Amazon including Day Hikes On the California Central Coast, Fodor’s Northern California, Lonely Planet Pacific Coast Highways Road Trips, and Lonely Planet Coastal California.
Traveling to Monterey Soon?
Have you been whale watching on the Monterey Bay before? Or anywhere else? What was your favorite part? Leave a comment below.