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 nearshore 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.
Blue whales--the biggest animals ever known to have existed on the planet--are regular visitors to Monterey Bay, joining humpbacks in krill and anchovy smorgasbords during the summer and fall. These blues belong to perhaps the healthiest population of their kind anywhere in the world. Other species of baleen whale native to the area include minke and fin; you may also win a glimpse of an elusive Baird's beaked whale.
Another notable member of Monterey Bay's marine community is the orca, or killer whale, which is actually a huge dolphin. 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.
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.