Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the aquarium showcases fish and invertebrates from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of Mexico.
My family and I particularly enjoy the touch pools on Tide Pool Plaza, where sea stars and sea urchins can be handled, and the fascinating Hall of Fishes, where a wide range of sea creatures live in recreated habitats.
In addition to this facility, Birch Aquarium also hosts interactive learning opportunities in La Jolla and other areas of San Diego. Of these, their whale watching excursions are the most popular.
December 26 marked the start of Birch Aquarium’s 13th season of whale watching. Aquarium naturalists and volunteers will be out on the open ocean twice a day through April 14, searching for whales, dolphins, sea lions, birds and a variety of other marine animals.
Approximately 20,000 gray whales pass San Diego on their annual 10,000-mile round-trip journey from the Bering Sea to their breeding grounds in the lagoons of Baja California – the longest mammal migration in the world.
San Diegans are quite lucky to witness this parade of whales every winter. Last year, Birch passengers and naturalists observed gray whale mating behavior, females traveling with calves, breaching (leaping with much of the body out of the water) and spyhopping (raising the head above water to peek around).
At the moment, we are only a week into the season, but Birch whale watchers have already seen 45 southbound gray whales, hundreds of acrobatic common dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and beautiful Risso’s dolphins breaching among the swells.
The biggest thrill to date: two cow/calf pairs surfacing near the boat and another pair of juveniles breaching!
Tip: Dress in layers and don’t forget your camera.