Posted Jan 10, 2018 | By Visit Oxnard

Guide to Whale Watching off the Coast of Oxnard

A Memorable Adventure for Visitors and Locals of all Ages

Observe one of nature's most majestic gentle giants on a whale watching excursion off the beautiful Oxnard coast!

The Santa Barbara Channel that runs along Oxnard's shore is a diverse highway of migrating whales and dolphins throughout the year. Start your adventure at the Channel Islands Harbor and embark on a three-hour tour of the channel where you will have the chance to see whales frolicking in the ocean on their way back to their feeding grounds. The peak of whale watching season is during the Gray Whale Migration (December through mid-April), expect to see gray whales with their new born calves, humpback whales, seals, sea lions, dolphins and orca whales.

There are also excursions during the summer months (mid-June through mid-September), where you can get a glimpse of blue whales, fin whales, humpback whales and orca whales, along with other marine mammals.

What you can see

There are a variety of interesting behaviors that whales display, here are some of the distinctive habits that you will be able to see...


The first sign most visitors see when out whale watching is the visible spouting. Spouting can be seen for as far as miles away, especially on a clear day. Commonly confused as a fountain of water, spouting is simply the misty result of the whale exhaling. When nearby, spouting is an explosive "whoosh" that can be heard from up to a ½ mile away! The force of the spout is due to the fact that whales don't breathe as often as humans do. As a result, they come to the surface and have to take in and let out a lot of air quickly.


Scientists are still working to understand why whales breach. The spectacular act of a whale leaping out of the water cuts a signature figure commonly seen on billboards, t-shirts, and magazines alike. Theories on why whales breach range from an act of trying to shake parasites off their skin, to communicating to each other, to just plain having fun.


You'll get a good look at a whale's tail when they dive. Almost as picturesque as when they breach, whales tend to make a series of shallow dives followed by a deep dive. Be patient and keep your eyes peeled! Gray whales can dive anywhere from three to 15 minutes, and when they come up, it's almost always in a different spot than you saw them last.


When a whale juts directly up out of the water with its head pointed to the sky, it's called spyhopping. Whales and dolphins both spyhop. Literally holding their heads out of the water, they spyhop to see what is around them. Whales have been known to rise so that their head is 8-10 feet above the surface. They even sometimes turn slowly for up to thirty seconds before slipping back into the water.

How to book a tour

Island Packers Whale Watching tours and Channel Islands Whale Watch depart from Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard for a 3 to 3 1/2-hour cruise along the Santa Barbara channel. Increase your trip from a half day to a full day and enjoy a landing on the Channel Islands at Anacapa Island or Santa Cruz Island.

Gear to Take Along:

Because most excursions take place in the winter or set out in the early morning, be sure to bring a jacket and dress in plenty of layers! Also wear a good pair of flat shoes that have some traction.

  • Binoculars – highly recommended! With a pair of binocs you might be able to make out easy-to-miss details like barnacles on a gray whale.
  • Camera – there's nothing like capturing a pod of dolphins swimming alongside your vessel in the Santa Barbara Channel.
  • Jacket – chilly mornings give way to warm afternoons, so be sure to dress in layers.
  • Sunscreen & lip balm – don't even think about heading out on the ocean without these must-have items. Even when it's overcast, you can still get burned.
  • Sunglasses – polarized if possible. The more glare from the waves you can cut down, the more likely you'll be able to see the wildlife.

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