Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Whale Tales: Humpbacks at Monterey Bay

Two years ago, my husband took me on a whale watching cruise in Monterey Bay for my birthday.  It was late October, nearing the end of the migratory season and also the end of peak season for Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae).  It rained all morning, right up until the time our boat left the dock; I insisted on sitting outside anyway, swathed in rain ponchos, right at the bow.

The sun came out soon, we ended up only slightly damp, and the two hours of seasickness were absolutely worth it!
Humpback whale fluke
Monterey Bay, a protected National Marine Sanctuary, is a first-class destination for year-round whale watching, as it is home to resident whales as well as hosts a wide range of migratory cetaceans.  Once on the brink of death, Monterey Bay is now a thriving ecosystem that has been slowly rehabilitated over the past several decades.  The hunting of sea otters to near-extinction had dramatic and far-reaching consequences for all life in the bay; the practice of whaling also had detrimental effects on the ecosystem and continued through much of the 1900's.  Today, the thriving bay, teeming with marine life, is a living testimony to the work of many dedicated researchers and conservationists. 

The tour guide on our whale watching cruise told us that these days, revenue brought in from whale watching cruises far exceeds the whaling profits of former times.
Another humpback whale fluke.
I didn't get any fantastic photographs of whales breaching (I didn't get any photos of breaching at all, actually) though we did see the humpbacks performing their iconic aerial acrobatics!  In addition to a large number of Humpback whales, we also saw Risso's Dolphins (Grampus griseus), California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus), Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina), and plenty of birds I didn't have the time to identify or photograph!
The humpback whale's namesake: it's hump.
If you're interested in whale watching in the Monterey Bay area, peak season for Humpback whales in Monterey Bay is between April and November; Gray whales are predominate from December to March.  Between August and October, Blue whales may be spotted as they stay close to shore on their migration south.  Minke whales, Fin whales, Sperm whales, Beaked whales and Orcas can also be seen in Monterey Bay throughout the year!  It's never a bad time for a naturalist at Monterey Bay!

Even if you whale watch from shore, you're sure to spot something exciting and perhaps even inspiring at Monterey Bay.
Bonus photo: A very photogenic Harbor Seal at Monterey Bay

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