Whale Watching Tours in Monterey Bay
Monterey Bay's unique submarine topography and immensely rich food web make it among the West Coast's premier whale-watching hotspots. There's no more humbling and awe-inspiring way to experience the grandeur of the Bay's wild side than by observing the enormous marine mammals reliably drawn to these productive waters.
Numerous outfits offer whale-watching excursions in and around Monterey Bay, with plenty of boats embarking daily from Fisherman's Wharf.
The presence of the enormous Monterey Canyon, a gaping cleft below the near shore waters of the Bay, is one reason why whales are so commonly seen close to land here. Feeding for huge baleen whales is often productive along the margins of this plunging defile, while migrating pods are funneled into coastal waters to traverse it.
Throughout the year, a remarkable diversity of whales utilizes habitats in Monterey Bay. Gray whales migrating between nursery grounds in Mexico and feeding areas in Alaska journey through the Bay twice a year--southward in early to mid-winter, northward in early to mid-spring. Humpback whales are other long-distance travelers, feasting in summer and autumn off the California coast before trekking to balmier Mexican waters for breeding.
Our Carmel California inns are just moments away from an exciting whale watching adventure. Ask our staff how book or check out the tour companies at the bottom of this page.
Types of Whales in Monterey Bay
Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) are the biggest animals ever known to have existed on the planet and are regular visitors to Monterey Bay. They exist in nearly every ocean on the planet though they are an endangered species. Blue whales live to around 80 years of age. There are thought to be 10,000-25,000 blue whales in existence.
Whale hunting from 1900 to the 1960s saw approximately 360,000 blue whales slaughtered for oil. Blue whales grow to over 90 feet and can weigh 170 tonnes. They have long, slender bodies and can be many shades of gray or blue-gray, frequently lighter colored underneath. Blue whales are baleen whales, filtering their food, mainly krill, plankton and small fish, through baleen plates. They can frequently be seen in the Monterey Bay area from June to October, then begin their migration in November. Monterey blue whales belong to perhaps the healthiest population of their kind anywhere in the world. They are sometimes seen in small groups but more frequently in pairs or alone.
Orca (Killer Whale)
Another notable member of Monterey Bay's marine community is the orca, or killer whale, which is actually a huge dolphin. Orcas live 50 to 80 years. These dramatic top predators, highly intelligent and social, are particularly active in the Bay during the northerly gray-whale migration, when they stake out along the deep waters of the Monterey Canyon to ambush calves.
With their fleet movements, black-and-white coloration, and pronounced dorsal fins--that of a bull may be close to six feet tall--orcas are unmistakable. Orcas are toothed whales having 48-52 teeth, up to 4 inches in length.
Smaller relatives of the orca--notably the Dall's porpoise, Pacific white-sided dolphin, and Risso's dolphin--are regularly seen from whale-watching boats as well, sometimes in huge pods.
Getting out onto the water and encountering colossal whales and acrobatic dolphins in their natural habitat is the experience of a lifetime, and this outstandingly vibrant marine ecosystem is one of the world's best places to do it.
The gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is another baleen whale. The whale can reach 49 feet and weigh up 36 tonnes. It is dark gray in color (thus the name) with white patches. They live between 50 and 70 years. Once called the "devil fish", because they fight fiercely when hunted. Grey whales were nearly hunted to extinction but made a comeback and are no longer on the endangered species list.
It can be found in North Pacific waters in both America and Asia. Unlike other whales, the gray whale has no dorsal fin. Its two main population groups are a small Asian group of about 130 whales and between 20,000 and 22,000 whales in the Northern Pacific population that ranges from Alaska to Baha California Sur. This entire group migrates passed Monterey twice a year - migrating south in the winter and north in the spring.
Humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae) are the most common whale in Monterey Bay seen from April to December. The whale's distinctive features are its dorsal hump, nodules on its head and lower jaw, and ridged, white underside. The humpback has a long black and white tail fin and the longest pectoral fins of whales of its kind.
They are 40 to 50 feet long and weigh up to 79 tonnes. They inhabit all oceans and have one of the longest migrations of any mammal, traveling up to 16,000 miles yearly. There are thought to be approximately 80,000 humpbacks worldwide, with 20,000 in the North Pacific population. The humpback was on the endangered species list in 1988, but its status improved from "endangered" to "vulnerable" and is now listed as "least concern", though some pockets of the whale population are still at risk. Humpbacks are known to be curious. They sometimes approach whale watching boats, stay near, rub gently against the hull and eye the people on board. A diver in Hawaii had a close-encounter of the huge-but gentle-kind with a 79 tonne female humpback that extended her fins on several occasions to touch the divers.
The minke whale, also known as a "lesser rorqual" may have been named after a Norwegian whaler named Meincke. It can be seen in the Monterey Bay area year round. The whale is usually classified into two species: Common minke whale and Antarctic minke whale. The smallest of the baleens, it can grow to 23 feet and weigh 4 to 5 tonnes.
It is dark gray, black or purple-black in color with white bands on each flipper. They can live 30 to 50 years. The minke whale will stay under water for 20 minutes at a time and seldom breaches. There are an estimated 515,000 Antarctic mink whales and it is in a "not at risk" category.
Baird's Beaked Whale
Baird's beaked whale prefers deep waters off shore and is therefore rarely ever seen. They are the largest of beaked whales and are exclusive to the North Pacific. It is dark-gray, brown or black, with roundish body tapered at both ends.
It has a bulbous forehead and beak much like that of a dolphin. The whale is 39-42 feet and around 12 tonnes. It is in the family of whales known as "Giant beaked whales" in which there are two species of non-overlapping populations: Baird's beaked whale and Arnoux's beaked whale, which inhabits the Southern Ocean, sometimes called the Antarctic Ocean. The whales travel in pod groups of 3 to 10 individuals. Although the Baird's beaked whale is not endangered, and was not exploited to the degree of other whales, it is still hunted in Japan, where approximately 60 are killed annually for their meat (for human consumption). The whale's conservation status is in question, and it could one day be at risk, partially because it is does not have protected status in the International Whaling Commission's moratorium on commercial whaling.
The fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) is a baleen whale which prefers deeper offshore waters although they are still occasionally sighted in Monterey Bay in the summer and fall months. The fin whale is brown or dark grey dorsally (top) and light colored ventrally (on the bottom). Its long head is asymmetrically colored - being dark gray on the left side with patterns of light and dark coloring on the right.
They are long and slender, growing up to 89 feet and weighting 74 tonnes, though in the Northern Hemisphere the average size is between 61 and 66 feet. It is the second longest animal in the world after the blue whale. They are fast swimmers, travelling up to 20 knots. The fin whale can live to be over 90 years old. They travel in social groups of 2 - 7 individuals.
The fin whale inhabits all oceans but is absent in the waters close the ice pack of both hemispheres and seas away from larger bodies of water such as the Red Sea and the Baltic Sea. The migration patterns of the fin whale are not really known. The whale was hunted though its pre-exploitation numbers are not known. Though some estimate 40,000 in the Northern Hemisphere and 15-20,000 in the Southern Hemisphere. The current population is a subject of debate and contradictory estimates exist. As many as 30,000 fin whales were killed in hunts from 1935 to 1965.
Whale Watching Tour Companies in Monterey
Monterey Bay Whale Watch
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Offers year round whale watching tours in Monterey Bay. See orcas, blue whales, gray whales, dolphins, and humpbacks. Captains have over 20 years' experience and tours are led by marine biologists.
Randy's Fishing & Whale Watching Trips
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Randy's Fishing and Whale Watching Trips, located in Cannery Row, Monterey, offers whale watching tours and ocean fishing tours. Charter boats have the highest observation decks available for great views, experienced naturalists and captains.
Princess Monterey Whale Watching
(888) 223-9153 or (831) 205-2370
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For over 30 years, Princess Monterey Whale Watching has led narrated ocean tours. Tours are offered all year and narrated by marine biologists/naturalists with a decade of experience with Monterey Bay marine life.
Chris's Fishing and Whale Watching
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Family friendly guided tours. All captains have the skill and experience to navigate the waters and are expert at finding gray whales, orcas, dolphins, sea turtles, and porpoise.
Blue Ocean Whale Watching
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Blue Ocean offers weekly tours and custom whale watching charters year round. The boat's observation deck is the highest available - providing great views. Experienced naturalists guide the tours. Charters leave from Moss Landing.