Baird’s Beaked Whale in California (not chaseable)

If one premise of this site is that all mammal species can be seen somewhere — once we figure out where that “somewhere” is — then I wanted to pass on information about a birding trip that usually gets Baird’s Beak Whale, Guadalupe Fur Seal, and, about 50% of the time, Bryde’s Whale.

Is there a catch? There is indeed. The trip is a week long, it only runs once a year, and it sells out two years in advance. And a fourth catch is that is is 95% pelagic birding and only 5% mammal watching.

Every year in the week starting on Labor Day Monday, a sport-fishing boat called the Searcher does a deep-water circuit out of San Diego as far as 150 miles off the California coast, trying to get such coveted ticks as Cook’s Petrel, Guadalupe Murrelet, and Townsend’s Storm-Petrel. I have just come from the 2022 journey and marine mammals included Blue, Fin, Humpbacked, Baird’s, and Killer Whales, but this year no Bryde’s. We had only two Guadalupe Fur Seals, a bit less than average I think.

If you’re not a birder I would think the trip would be grim indeed. There are hours and hours of sitting on a chum slick as the boat rocks side to side and everybody argues over minute differences in storm petrel feather patterns. It would be easy to start throwing up, not out of mal-de-mer but from boredom.

Even so, the trip goes to places you will not see otherwise and is cheaper than a full trip around Baja.

Trip for 2023 is sold out, and once the results of 2022 get out (( we had spectacularly good birding luck )), I assume 2024 will finish filling up as well. It’s not listed on the official Searcher website but you can call the office and get on the list.

Photo shows a dorsal fin of what were tentatively ID’d as Eastern Tropical Pacific orcas, which were chasing down common dolphins.

Our trip was slightly truncated by the impending arrival of Tropical Storm Kay.

Good food, small cabins, nice people if you like birders — it is what it is, and if you need those species, now you know where they are.

Charles Hood /


  • Alvaro Jaramillo

    Out of Monterey, we do a few longer (10 hour) birding trips, and saw Baird’s Beaked Whales twice last year, and once this year so far. Being longer than the average whale watching trip is one factor, but the birders/guides on board are super keen to find unusual critters of any type. The Berardius this year were found again by other whale watches a couple of days later. No guarantees, but 10 hours rather than multi-day, and does not sell out years in advance., go to the boats/pelagics section.

  • Charles Hood

    Hi Alvaro, yes I have recommended your trips often, here and elsewhere. So far I have seen Baird’s twice out of Monterey, out of maybe 40+ trips of anywhere from two- to twelve-hours. And Guadalupe Fur Seals are slowly becoming more get-able, as I have also tried to document here. Bryde’s in Southern California is at northern edge of range… to be hoped for but never expected.

  • John Fox

    Nice report! That corner of California may be the best place to get Bryde’s Whale as an ABA tick.

    LA Audubon trips aren’t as long as the Searcher’s but are more frequent, and have had some great trips and some total busts (IME). One LA Audubon trip got a photo of a Hubb’s Beaked Whale.

    It wasn’t so long ago, maybe 20 years, that pelagic birding trips on both coasts of the US struggled to get get enough people to pay for the boat, much less sold out. On every one of the trips I did in those days one, or several, cetaceans showed up and blew me away.

    It’s no surprise they are my favorite mammals these days!

  • Charles Hood

    Post-tropical storm Kay, a one-day trip out of San Diego had Guadalupe Fur Seal on 11 Sept. These trips run about once-a-month in summer and fall, and are sponsored by Buena Vista Audubon. They generally sell out ahead of time, and it’s not a guaranteed trip for that species, but may be just as probable (or more so) as Monterey boats. / Hood

  • Alvaro Jaramillo

    We lucked out again, yesterday a superb experience with Baird’s Beaked Whales from Monterey. It seems to be a good year for them.

  • Charles Hood

    Sunday 11 Sept there was a “cool kids only” private pelagic trip in Los Angeles County waters, and besides boobies and frigatebirds and the other targets, they did have a Bryde’s whale. At one point they were in 80-degree water.

  • John Fox

    I might have mixed up LA Audubon and Buena Vista Audubon, sorry if I did. There are commercial trips from Santa Barbara (IIRC) to the Channel Islands and those are the trips I did.; the first to try for the endemic Scrub Jay and the second to try for the endemic Fox. The first had to have been a charter because it was wall to wall birders, I thought it was an LA Audubon trip.

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