Lone humpback whale in Glacier Bay, Alaska.

Marine Mammals

Various species of whales, dolphins, seals and other mammals occur in all of the World's seas, as well as in some rivers and lakes, but there are few "hotspots" where you can see many species in great numbers. Most of them are areas of high biological productivity in parts of the ocean where warm and cold waters mix up. I've been lucky to see some of the best marine mammal habitats. Below are some photos and site descriptions.

view Coast of California near Lucia. The most diverse fauna of marine mammals outside Antarctica can be found in Northern Pacific Ocean, particularly along the coast of California, where cold current enters subtropical waters. view Seals waiting out a storm, Salt Point, California.
view Farallone Islands near the entrance
to San Francisco Bay - another great
place to see various whales, dolphins,
seals and sea lions.
The best place to see marine mammals in California is Monterey Bay. It is extremely productive area; besides, giant underwater canyons near shore give you a chance to see some species rarely encountered in coastal waters, including such deepwater specialist as sperm whale. frenzy Feeding group of humpback whales,
dolphins of three species,
sea lions and various seabirds.
Monterey Bay, California.
whale whale whale
Sperm whale (Physeter catodon), large male, Monterey Bay. It can be easily recognized at sea: its blow is directed sideways, not upwards.
whale whale whale
Migrating humpbacks,
Monterey Bay.
More than 30 species of marine mammals can be seen in Monterey Bay. Some of them are common in appropriate season, others are rare visitors. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are probably the most spectacular. They show endless variety of interesting behavior, such as singing, breaching and bubble-netting, and are very curious and playful. They are easy to find in summer and early fall, but move south in winter.

Humpbacks can be identified by the unique pattern
on the underside of their tail.
whale whale whale
Humpbacks playing with kelp,
Monterey Bay.
whale whale Friendly humpbacks investigating
a Monterey Bay Whalewatch boat,
Monterey Bay.
whale Blue whale, Monterey Bay. Another common summer resident is blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus). Monterey Bay is the best place in the World to see these beautiful giants. It is estimated that at least 25% of these rare whales spend summer in Californian waters. whale Blue whale, Monterey Bay.
whale Blue whale (B. musculus),
Monterey Bay.

whale Fin whale (B. physalus), Paramushir,
Kuril Islands.
Three other species of Balaenoptera whales (rorquals) can be occasionally seen in Monterey Bay, but they are more easy to find in other places, such as Barents Sea or Kuril Islands. They differ in size and coloration, but can be difficult to identify at sea. Relative size of dorsal fin can be used to tell them apart. whale Sei whale (B. borealis), Kildin
Island, near Murmansk, Russia.

whale Minke whale (B. acutorostrata),
Monterey Bay.
whale Baird's beaked whale (Berardius bairdi),
Monterey Bay.
Even beaked whales (Ziphiidae), little known and usually very difficult to see, can occasionally be found in Monterey area. whale Baird's beaked whales (Berardius bairdi),
Monterey Bay.
At least seven species of beaked whales occur in the Pacific Ocean off California. They prefer deep waters far offshore. Some are only known from a handful of beached specimens, others are more regularly observed. whale
Perrin's beaked whale, appr.
100 nm west from San Francisco.
This video snapshot (left, slightly enhanced in Adobe Photoshop) is almost certainly the first and only image of recently (2002) described Perrin's beaked whale (Mesoplodon perrini) ever obtained in the wild.
dolphins Northern right whale dolphins
(Lissodelphis borealis), bow-
riding, Monterey Bay.
dolphin dolphin dolphin
Risso's dolphins (Grampus griseus), Monterey Bay.
Three dolphin species shown here occur in the Bay in giant mixed herds year-round. They can be found throughout the North Pacific, but seldom so close to shore.
dolphins Pacific white-sided dolphin
(Lagenorhynchus obliquidens),
bow-riding, Monterey Bay.
porpoise Dall's porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli),
Monterey Bay.
Dall's porpoise, another local resident, is the World's fastest cetacean, and also the most maneuverable one. These two photos were taken only one second apart. porpoises Dall's porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli),
Monterey Bay.
whale Gray whale, Monterey Bay.
whale Gray whales (mother and calf)
below Point Reyes Lighthouse.
Only three species of cetaceans can be regularly seen from shore in California: bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Monterey Bay area, short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) around San Diego, and gray whales (Eschrichtius gibbosus) all along the coast. These small whales pass by as they migrate from Alaska to Mexico in winter, and back north in spring. Occasionally mothers give birth to calfs in Monterey Bay. Point reyes Lighthouse is the most reliable place to look for them from shore. whale Gray whale, Monterey Bay.
dolphin Long-beaked common dolphin
(D. capensis), off Point Pinos.
Short- and long-billed
common dolphins, off Ventura.
Short- and long-billed common dolphins usually don't mix together. So I was very surprised to encounter a large mixed herd off Ventura in May 2003. It also included some Pacific white-sided dolphins and humpback whales. dolphin
Short-billed common
dolphin, Monterey Bay.
orca orca orca orca
Flapfin - a male from a pod of so-called transients, whale- and seal-hunting killer whales, Monterey Bay, California.
whale whale
Female killer whale chasing Pacific
white-sided dolphins. Off Point Pinos.

whale whale
Killer whales can be identified by the shape
of their dorsal fins and whitish saddle
patches. Off Point Pinos.
Killer whales (Orcinus orca) of California belong to three different cultures, each with its own language, behavior, and migration patterns. Transient pods patrol the coast in search of marine mammals, or ambush gray whales during migration. Residents feed on salmon and herring, live in Puget Sound and other inshore areas further north, but occasionally come south to Monterey Bay in winter. Offshores live in the open ocean in large herds, feeding on pelagic fish and squid; their habits are mostly a mystery. Interestingly, local sea lions and other wildlife can clearly tell these groups apart by sight and sound. whale whale
Transient orcas - male, female, and calf.
Off Point Pinos.

whale whale
Transient orcas tend to have more pointed
dorsal fins than offshore ones. Male above -
off Point Pinos, male below - off Farallones.

Fin of basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus), Monterey Bay.

Part 2: California (continued)