Monterey Bay Whale Watch - July 2008 Feature


Summer of 2008 in Monterey Bay: Unprecedented Numbers of Humpback Whales

By Nancy Black / Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Click on small pictures below to see full-size photos.

Humpback Whales feeding, photo by Nancy BlackThe spring and summer of 2008 in Monterey Bay have been exceptional for the numbers of humpback whales feeding in the Bay. Over the last few months 40-60 whales have been feeding on massive schools of anchovies within a few miles of the Monterey Harbor. Along with the whales, thousands of California sea lions, harbor seals and seabirds are also congregating to gorge themselves on the fish. In addition, on some days thousands of dolphins, including Pacific white-sided dolphins, northern right whale dolphins, and Risso's dolphins have been sighted along the edge of the Monterey Submarine Canyon feeding on more fish and squid over these deeper waters. Killer whales have periodically cruised through the area, some staying for several days to hunt the seals and seal lions. This all has resulted in a season of extraordinary whale watching and we expect this to continue through summer and fall as ocean conditions this year are ideal to support this massive food source in the Bay.

It's been over two years since strong upwelling conditions have occurred in the Bay. Strong northwest winds that have been periodically blowing along our coast have created ideal conditions for upwelling - in which deep water filled with nutrients is driven to the surface by a combination of the winds, currents, contour of the coastline and the rotation of the earth. The nutrients hit the surface and the sun fuels the production of plankton blooms, which supports the fish and all the animals that depend on these anchovies and sardines for food, especially the humpback whales.

Two Humpback Whales breaching, photo by Nancy BlackThese oceanographic conditions are also ideal for the reproduction and concentration of krill, which usually occurs later in the summer and fall; a situation ideal for blue whales, the largest animal on earth. Due to poor upwelling conditions and timing over the last few years, blue whales have been feeding elsewhere but we predict this year Monterey Bay should be full of krill and hopefully many blue whales. Blue whales feed only on krill, a small shrimp-like animal that congregates in huge masses. An adult blue whale eats about 4 tons of krill a day, or 40 million individual krill! Humpback whales feed on both fish and krill and are currently concentrating in Monterey Bay in huge numbers.

The humpback whales have been feeding in groups of 15 to 20 whales around some of these fish schools. With so many whales in the area, they often become social and very active, often breaching, tail slapping, fin slapping, and sometimes becoming curious about us as they approach and hang next to the boat while we just drift in one spot. The numbers and antics of these whales have more than thrilled passengers. On one recent day, we watched as one whale breached over 300 times in a row, then alternated pec slapping (rolling on their side and slapping their long side flipper against the water) with the breaches (jumping completely out of the water). If the fish are near the surface, the whales will lunge feed up through the surface, engulfing the fish with their mouths wide open and some anchovies spilling out.

Humpback Whale breaching, photo by Nancy Black   Humpback Whale tail slapping, photo by Nancy Black   Humpback Whale fin slapping, photo by Nancy Black   Humpback Whale close to boat, photo by Nancy Black
Breaching   Tail slapping   Fin slapping   Humpback near boat

Humpback whales are still endangered, as they were heavily hunted at one time even in Monterey Bay, which was a historic feeding area for them. Since they have been protected for over 30 years now their population has greatly increased. Currently there are about 1,400 humpback whales that feed off California and migrate to Mexico during the winter to have their calves and mate. In fact the population is growing about 6% each year and we are seeing more calves this year in the Bay then in all previous years.

Humpback Whale breaching, photo by Nancy BlackIf you haven't been out before now is the time to go, as this season is definitely the best in many years. In fact on some days whales have been very close to the Monterey shoreline and on these days can easily be seen from shore, or just by looking out a bit farther you can often see many blows or splashes in the Bay. We have taken thousands of photos of the active humpbacks and the photos included here were taken in the last few weeks. We also continue to individually identify the whales by the markings on the underside of the tail flukes and contribute those identifications to Cascadia Research, which compiles all the photos and determines a population estimate for these whales each year.

For recent information see our daily sightings or to make a reservation go to our secure reservation form or call us at 831-375-4658.


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U R Here Features -- July 2008

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

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Photos © 2008 Nancy Black.

Last updated July 3, 2008