Monterey Bay Whale Watch - May 2002 Feature


Whales Arrive for Summer in Monterey Bay
By Nancy Black

Click on small pictures below to see full-size photos (sizes 14K- 39K).

Lunge-feeding humpbacksSummer in Monterey Bay begins the start of a new and productive season in the seas. Spring winds have created intense upwelling of cold nutrient-rich water and with the sun's fuel, microscopic plants and animals flourish, providing abundant food for the larger animals of the Bay. Humpback Whales feed on tons of schooling anchovies, Blue Whales arrive to feed along the canyon edge on millions of krill each day, dolphins frolic by the hundreds, and the top predators -- killer whales -- periodically cruise through the Bay looking for marine mammal prey. Shearwaters, seabirds known for their tremendous ability to fly effortlessly across thousands of miles of ocean by soaring with the winds, arrive to the Bay by the thousands. The majestic albatross, with a 6' wingspan, flies to the Bay from Hawaii. It's feeding season in the Bay and the diversity and abundance of life in Monterey Bay is one of nature's most spectacular events.

Monterey Bay is situated on the central California coast and is known for its vast submarine canyon, the largest and deepest on the West Coast and the only one that begins nearshore. Because of this canyon, deep-water species of marine mammals and seabirds are found close to shore. This allows for incredible viewing opportunities on a day's whale watch trip.

As marine biologist and naturalist for Monterey Bay Whale Watch I spend over 200 days a year observing this bounty of life in the Bay. Every day is different because I never know how the day's events will unfold. I remind the passengers that we are out in nature looking for wild animals on an adventure that is often the highlight of a vacation in the area. Some are so awestruck by the wildlife that they consider the trip a memorable life experience. Summer is my favorite time at sea, despite the cooler temperatures and frequent fog.

Humpback Whale ID PhotoWhile I've been spending the last 15 years working on Monterey Bay, the Humpback Whale has become one of my favorite animals. I now can recognize many of them by their distinctive marks on the underside of their tail flukes and dorsal fins and some have names such as Hookfin, Shred, Roper and Earl. As part of our research in collaboration with Cascadia Research, a non-profit group, we document behaviors and identify all the whales.

Humpback Whale approaches boatMy favorite days are during encounters with "friendly" Humpback Whales. Endangered whales, Humpbacks were nearly hunted to extinction worldwide but after nearly 30 years of protection they often show their curious nature and approach our boat. The whales spyhop, roll on their sides as we look into their eyes, and seemingly blow on the people as everyone gets covered in whale breath. Humpbacks are also one of the most animated whales as they occasionally breach, tail slap, roll belly up and crash their side flippers onto the water.

Blue whale flukesThe Blue Whale, the largest animal ever to live on earth, reaching lengths of 100' and 250 tons, feeds on 4 tons or 40 millions krill (small shrimp-like animal) each day. The California coast boasts the largest population of Blue Whales on earth, once numbering in the hundreds of thousands and now down to 10,000 worldwide. Close to 2,200 Blue Whales feed off the California coast each summer and fall. Monterey's submarine canyon is a prime feeding area for these mammoths. People come from all over the world at this time for a chance to see the Blues.

Pacific White Sided DolphinsI find the smaller animals just as amazing! Six kinds of dolphins frequent the area, from the most acrobatic of all, Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, to the largest, Risso's Dolphins, which feed on deep-sea squid. Often swarms of beautifully colored jellyfish drift with the currents with an occasional Leatherback Sea Turtle feeding on them. Sea Otters and Harbor Seals rest and feed in the thick kelp forests nearshore. Ocean sunfish, albacore tuna, and blue sharks cruise the outer waters.

Killer WhalesThe most intelligent of the whales, Killer Whales travel through in family pods while on the hunt for prey. Even the Blue Whale isn't safe from these predators.

It's hard to imagine that Monterey is just a short drive from the populated cities of the Bay area. Many people living in the area don't even realize we can go out on a day trip, similar to an African safari, and witness such spectacular events of nature. As for myself, watching these animals along with the reactions of people of all ages experiencing ocean life for the first time is the reason I will continue to head out into the Bay on many more new adventures.

Learn more about our Whale Watching Trips and the marine animals of Monterey Bay.

Learn more about our Whale Watching Trips and the marine animals of Monterey Bay. For the latest sightings see our Current Sightings Report.



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Monterey Bay Whale Watch, LLC
84 Fisherman's Wharf
Monterey, CA 93940
Phone 831-375-4658  

Copyright © 2002 Monterey Bay Whale Watch. All rights reserved.
Photos by Nancy Black.

Last updated May 22, 2002