California is one of the best places in the world for whale watching, particularly in the Monterey Bay.
The bay is home to the Monterey Submarine Canyon, a valley cut into the sea floor and a perfect habitat for many whale species to come close to shore and feed as they migrate along the pacific coast. Gray whales migrating along the shores of Monterey swim their way toward the beaches of Southern California and Mexico during their fall migration where they enter winter birthing and mating grounds. This migration, one of the longest migrations known for any mammal, is destination to an estimated 29,000 gray whales this winter.
Located at 48 Fisherman’s Wharf, Chris’ Whale Watching is one of the oldest companies on the wharf and one of the premier means to getting up close and personal to whales en route.
Chris’ Whale Watching finds its origins as apart of a popular Monterey fishing community in 1948. Having to cut back on fishing due to regulations made in later years, a boom in the whale watching market was ushered in.
“People from around the world come to Monterey for whale watching,” said Keith Stemler of Chris’ Whale Watching. “They’re staying at our hotels and eating at our restaurants, literally employing people. It’s a fun, rewarding thing to be able to market.”
With rates at $37 for adults and $22 for children, fully narrated three-hour tours depart from the Old Fisherman’s Wharf at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. daily. An eco-friendly company, Chris’ Whale Watching makes sure visitors get ample viewing time of a number of whales and porpoises through the seasons — humpback whales in the summer and gray whales in the winter.
The Monterey Bay is home to an abundance of sea life including sea lions, sea otters and dolphins, all which can be seen on a whale watching adventure. Because of regulations enacted in the 1980s, gray whales have become the only whale removed from the endangered species list.
“You’ll find whales and dolphins here year round,” Stemler said. “It’s a magnificent place, you won’t find anywhere else like it.”
The most up to date boat in the fleet, the Star of Monterey, is a 70 ft. passenger boat perfect for chasing pods of whales that travel through the bay, though regulations keep watchers from impeding on the whales’ path, keeping boats at a safe, 100-yard distance. The boat’s captain, Capt. Nick Lemon, is one of the most experienced sea captains on the West Coast.
All of Chris’ boats are USCG approved and include life saving equipment, marine radios, sonar, radar and twin engines that are fast and environmentally clean, but whale watching is mostly done technology free through line of sight, keeping best interest in the whales.
Whale watching can be both an unpredictable and awe-inspiring experience, with potential new encounters each and every trip.
Stemler said that while the wharf has its competing whale watching crews, they all work for the whales out there together and communicate to one another. Because of the nature of the habitat and supply of food, “there are more whales in Monterey Bay than any other place in the world.”