The Fastest Way to Spot Whales and Dolphins is a Coastal Adventure

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Whale-Watching passengers: The Robinson Family from Modesto. L – R, Front row: Nate, 15; David, 14. L – R, Back row: Mom Elsa, 51; Dad Jeff, 51.

“Seek and ye shall find” could easily be one mantra of the Newport Beach-based whale-watching tour company, Newport Coastal Adventure.

It certainly proved true on a recent blustery, chilly, sea-bumpy afternoon aboard a 26-foot, Zodiac-type, 6-person inflatable that I was fortunate to share with the Robinson family, vacationing from Modesto, CA.

Although 47-year-old Skipper Richard Baranosky responsibly warned us that the short, steep, choppy waters might make spotting whales a tad difficult (and stomachs rebellious), the family all voted to give it a go. The captain promised that we could always turn back and take a rain-check for smoother waters the next morning.

The Robinson’s decision proved the correct one.

Other than one Hawaiian whale watching expedition a few years back, during which not a single cetacean surfaced, this was a first for Jeff Robinson, 51, a recently retired state parole officer, his wife, Elsa, same age, a Modesto City Schools administrative assistant, and their two sons: Nate, 15, and David, 14, both avid football players whose early size and obvious intelligence promise gridiron success.

Currently, California gray whales are making their annual return to Alaskan waters, after spending the winter in the warm nursery lagoons of Baja California, loading up on rich plankton in the sun-abundant latitudes, giving birth to a new generation of whales, then completing their 14,000-mile round trip by April and May.

Photo taken by Newport Coastal Adventures deckhand Erica

Evolutionarily outrageously good navigators, gray whales prefer our Coastal headlands, most notably locally Dana Point, then they splay out between Newpor, and Catalina, on their westerly/northerly course home, the mothers nursing their calves all the way.

Skipper Baranosky obviously knows the local waters, for he knew immediately where the best chance would be to keep company with some whales.

Within minutes, we spotted the “blow” of two whales ahead, skirting the surface at a steady rate of probably seven knots. With throttle pushed, the Zodiac rocketed off the swell crests, flew into the troughs or another closing swell until Baranosky closed their course at a federally mandated 300-foot distance. The whales were unperturbed as they followed their programmed course.

But there were more whales to find, so we spun a 180 and skipped atop westerly swells at about 25-knots toward Laguna, where we caught up with a sizeable pod of dolphin, all bent on going somewhere fast – probably because of some arcane, high-frequency  dolphin report of a nearby school of edible fish.

Baranosky guestimated this pod to number up to 200. As dolphins do, they rode our wake while a few surfed the bow wave.  He told us that on occasion, lucky whale watchers will come upon a super-pod of up to 5,000.

Photo taken by Newport Coastal Adventures deckhand Mark G

After two hours of bouncing, surfing, scanning, watching, and listening to informative whale facts, we headed back to the Newport jetty. But our return was slowed by the appearance of five more behemoths.

It was a truly mammal-rich outing, of which Nate exclaimed, “Pretty cool,” while David followed-up with, “Pretty special.”

For a “cool” and “pretty special” couple of hours searching for whales, et al, contact Newport Coastal Adventures at [email protected] or visit the website at

Making an outing even more rewarding, Newport Coastal Adventure Education Manager Jessica Roame took time to share additional facts specifically about NCA:

  • Zodiac-type boats in the NCA fleet measure between 24” and 36.”
  • They can carry between six and 19-passengers.
  • They are powered by either one or twin Yamaha 300s.
  • They propel the boats at between 20 and 30 miles per hour; the boats can cover up to 30 miles in a two-hour cruise.
  • NCA schedules between two and four trips per day, every day of the week, all year
  • During the Covid-19 crisis, the company suspended cruises between March and June, 2020.
  • Not only do they search for whales, but the Coast Guard-licensed skippers search for sharks, sea lions, mola molas and marine birds.  Recently, they had encounters with false killer whales.
  • Skippers hope to educate, as well as entertain. All are Certified Whale Watching Naturalists.
  • Although Newport Coastal Adventure boats do receive sighting reports from other vessels, NCA mainly goes out to seek sea animals on their own.
  • Company owner Ryan Lawler regularly takes cruises out on weekends, up to eight-hours in duration, sometimes as far away as Catalina Island.


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