Northern right whale dolphins (Lissodelphis
), bow-riding at night, Monterey Bay.

Part 2: California (continued)

California is the only place where four species of eared seals (Otariidae) occur together, but the only species most visitors see is California sea lion.

lion lion bear
California sea lions (Zalophus californianus californianus), Monterey.
lions California sea lions,
Sea lions regularly haul out in city harbors, such as in San Francisco and Monterey. They spend most days sleeping and sunbathing on piers and buoys, and head out to the sea at night to fish. They can sometimes be encountered hundreds miles from shore, but are much more common in coastal waters. lions
California sea lions,
San Francisco.
lion lions
California sea lions at sea,
Monterey Bay.
Tame on their Central California haulouts, sea lions are extremly shy in their breeding colonies further South. In places where they share beaches with other species of pinnipedes, California sea lions are the ones most prone to panic. Barking loudly, they rush towards the sea at a slightest sign of danger, often causing their more calm neighbors to follow, such as in the pictures below. lionlion
California sea lions: females (above)
and pup, San Miguel Island.
lion lion bear
California sea lion and Northern elephant seal, San Miguel Islands.
seal seal seal
Male elephant seals, Anyo Nuevo.
seal seal
Male elephant seals, Anyo Nuevo.
Another popular tourist attraction are the colonies of Northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris). whale
Female elephant seal, Anyo Nuevo.
The best time and place to see them is in February at Anyo Nuevo Point between Monterey and San Francisco.
seal seal
Male elephant seals, Anyo Nuevo.
seal seal seal
Baby elephant seals, Anyo Nuevo.
seal seal seal
Northern elephant seals in the dunes, San Miguel Island.
seal seal seal seal seal
Immature males in playful fights,
San Miguel.
Elephant seals at night,
San Miguel Island.

Northern elephant seals have a bizzare migration pattern. Some of them move between California and Alaska four times a year, coming south first to breed, then to moult.

Elephant seal tracks,
San Miguel Island.

In summer, thousands of them haul out on remote beaches to moult, sleep, and play.

Sleeping elephant seals,
San Miguel Island.

seal seal seal seal seal
Faces of individual elephant seals
are easy to recognize. San Miguel.
seal seal seal seal
Moulting Northern elephant seals, San Miguel Island.
seals seals seals seals seals
Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardsi), Point Lobos.
seal The only other true seal in California, harbor seal, has beautiful, highly variable coloration.
Pacific harbor seals, Monterey Bay.
otter Friendly sea otter, near
Pescadero, California.
California has a small, but very visible population of sea otters, considered to be a separate subspecies (Enhydra lutris nereis). They often live in city harbors and shallow bays, and sometimes approach people to play with them. They also can spend hours playing with each other, and this is one of the most charming scenes to see in the ocean. otter Sleeping sea otter, near
Pescadero, California.
otter otter otter otter otter
otter otter Playing sea otters, Moss Landing, California. otter otter
Up to 20,000 seals and sea lions belonging
to up to 6 different species can be seen at
Point Bennett on San Miguel Island.
The best place to see marine mammals in Southern California is Point Bennett, the westernmost point of the Channel Islands. view
California sea lions (brown), Northern elephant
seals (gray), and Northern fur seals (black),
Point Bennett.
Northern fur seal (right)
and Northern elephant seal,
Point Bennett.
California sea lions and Northern elephant seals are the most numerous inhabitants of Point Bennet, but Northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) also breed here. Steller's sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus)show up in cold water years, while rare Guadalupe fur seals can sometimes be seen in years with warm ocean water. seal
Guadalupe fur seal
(Arctocephalus townsendii),
Point Bennett.
Western gull (Larus occidentalis),
Point Bennett.
Unfortunately, many newborn pups on Point Bennet are lost due to predation by seagulls, pollution, and other dangers. gull
Western gull checking a sea lion pup for
its ability to defend itself, Point Bennett.

beach Looking for vaquitas (Phocoena
) from a beach north from San
Felipe, Baja California. Waters off
El Golfo de Santa Clara in Sonora,
Mexico, should be a better place to
look for them.
Baja California has most of the marine mammals found in Alta (American) California, plus colonies of Guadalupe fur seal on islands off its northwestern coast, a few tropical species often seen off its southern shores, and the endemic vaquita, a beautiful tiny porpoise endemic to the northern tip of Sea of Cortez. vaquita There are only a few hundred of these
porpoises left, so seeing them is very
difficult, and videotaping almost
impossible. Here, a few dorsal fins are
barely visible on the horizon beyond
the Cortez' extensive tidal mudflats.
view Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California. Baja's main attraction, however, are three large lagoons along its southwestern coast, where almost the entire World population of gray whales comes every winter to breed. They mate and give birth in shallow waters of the lagoons, and sometimes also in the Sea of Cortez. whale Gray whale, Laguna San Ignacio.
view Mating gray whales,
Laguna San Ignacio.
Bahia Magdalena is the warmest, while Laguna Ojo De Liebere is the most accessible/touristic. The third one, Laguna San Ignacio, is reached by a 40-mile long and relatively bumpy gravel road, but it is worth the effort. It is the only place where friendly gray whales regularly occur. view Mating gray whales,
Laguna San Ignacio.
Mother and calf approaching a boat,
Laguna San Ignacio.
Mother always stays on guard nearby
while its calf is playing with a boat.
Short whiskers grow in dimples
on a baby whale's head.
whale whale
Paying with a baby gray whale,
Laguna San Ignacio.
Some mothers actively encourage their newborn babies to approach boats and play with them. The calves particularly love people to scratch their noses. Whales like it so much that they would often follow your boat for a few minutes when you finally have to head for the shore after an hour or two of playing with them. It's good to be a traveling naturalist! whale whale
A very small and very inquisitive baby,
not more than a week old, Laguna San Ignacio.
Blue shark (Prionace glauca), Monterey Bay.

Part 3: North Pacific and Russian Arctic
Back to Part 1