Seasons in the sanctuary:

There are several peaks throughout the year for whale sightings. It is possible to see whales any day of the year and every trip we go on is different.


The peak of the Southbound Gray Whale migration is during the middle weeks of January. If you were to sit at Pt Pinos in Pacific Grove and watch whales all day, you could see more than 30 whales an hour during this time of year. We often see large groups of whales passing through the area on their way to Mexico. It is also possible to see humpback whales who have chosen to spend the winter in Monterey. Humpbacks have become more common during the winter months as the population recovers and there is an abundance of food in the bay. We typically see a variety of dolphins year-round. Winter time dolphin sightings include pacific whitesided dolphin, northern right whale dolphins, common dolphins and occasionally, bottlenose dolphins.


This time of year, brings an amazing mix of wildlife. The northbound gray whales are passing through Monterey Bay, including moms and calves. This is also the peak time of year to sight killer whales (otherwise known as orcas). As the spring season progresses, our local humpbacks will return to the bay for the summer and fall seasons. We tend to get afternoon wind from the Northwest most days, which drives the enormous upwelling cycle in the bay. Upwelling is the key to our local ecosystem, creating a huge abundance of life in a very dense area. Other species that could be sighted this time of year are blue whales, fin whales, and a variety of dolphins and porpoises!


Summer season is feeding season! Our local baleen whales such as humpback, blue and fin whales are attracted to the abundance of food in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. In particular, the rich waters in the network of submarine canyons in the bay. The spring and summer upwelling brings cold, nutrient rich sea water to the surface fertilizing all the phytoplankton, which is the base of the food chain. This concept is called “Wind to Whales”. From mid-July to early October we regularly see feeding whales on our trips. Our main species which is sighted daily is the humpback whale. It is also possible to see blue whales, fin whales, killer whales (aka orcas), and a variety of dolphins.


Fall is another great mixing time. We usually have some stretches of favorable weather in the fall as the upwelling season comes to a close. There is still plenty of food in the canyon network in the bay which keeps the whales here until late November some years. As our feeding whales start to slow down and leave the area for migration, many more are passing by the coast. It is also possible to see a variety of dolphins, northern elephant seals, killer whales (orcas) and a few early gray whales.

Other Sightings:

We can see a variety of pinniped, birds, fish, shark and invertebrate species throughout the year as well! We see southern sea otters almost every single trip in addition to california sea lions, and harbor seals in or near the harbor. Some of our less common pinnipeds such as northern elephant seals, northern fur seals and guadalupe fur seals are seen in deeper waters in the bay during trips. Often times we sight ocean sunfish or Mola mola during our trips and we will stop and take a look at one while it is basking at the surface if we can. If you are interested in seabirds, we have a wonderful variety of species in the bay throughout the year and our marine biologists and naturalists will help point them out to you. We occasionally see sharks, but they tend to be very skittish around the boat, so most encounters are a passing glance. There is a huge variety of invertebrates such as jellyfish and salps that we can see during our trips, our crew will point them out to you if there are large abundances of them near the boat.

Ten ways to become a daily conservationist:

Conservation is not some grandiose thing that only politicians, and scientists, and activists can do. It’s something anyone can do any day. Little actions build up over time. If every person took it upon themselves to make small changes to their daily behavior, we could really make a difference in the environment. Here are ten recommendations of daily actions you can adopt to become a daily conservationist.


  1. Bring a reusable water bottle with you – reduce or eliminate single use plastic bottles if possible
  2. Bring your own coffee mug with you when you buy coffee on the go – or use a mug at the coffee shop if you are going to stay and enjoy your drink (most coffee shops have “house” mugs upon request)
  3. Bring reusable shopping bags with you to the store
  4. Make sustainable seafood (and other food) choices – the Monterey Bay Aquarium has an app called the Seafood Watch Guide which can help you make sustainable choices
  5. Decline plastic straws at restaurants if you don’t need one – or bring your own reusable straw with you
  6. Pick up a few pieces of trash everyday – if it’s safe to do so pick up a few pieces of trash and make sure it gets in to the proper receptacle
  7. Recycle – educate yourself about what can be recycled in your area and sort all items accordingly
  8. Participate in a beach / river or park clean up – search for non-profits or other such groups hosting clean ups in your area – if there are none, start your own!
  9. Reuse household items for new purposes – get creative! Use glass jars for lunch containers or cups, use candle votives to decorate with in a new way, glass bottles to hold flowers, the possibilities are endless!
  10. Share your actions with others so they can be inspired to do the same


At Discovery Whale Watch we are working on taking on these things daily as a business as well. We are improving our on-site recycling program for Winter 2018-2019. We, along with all other businesses on the Monterey Old Fisherman’s Wharf do not use plastic straws on our premises. We provide free water refills, coffee, tea and hot chocolate to anyone who walks in the door – please bring a reusable container with you! We are also conservation partners for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program, pick up a paper guide in our office or get the link to download the app on your smart phone. We have recently added ocean and reef friendly sunscreen to our stock of products in store too!

updated 10/7/18 by Katlyn Taylor

Naturalist Blog

Check out reflections and notes from our crew as they attend lectures and conferences in the marine education, science and conservation realm. Our crew is encouraged to attend lectures and events to keep up to date on the latest information in the field.

10/21/18 Science Sunday


Free lecture at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Lab – Santa Cruz, CA

Topic: Mysteries of Davidson Seamount and Sur Ridge Revealed – Exploring ancient, deep-sea coral communities

Speaker: Dr. Andrew DeVogelaere – Research Coordinator / SIMoN Program Director for Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary


Since 2008 the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has included a seamount within its boundaries: Davidson Sea Mount. Dr. Andrew DeVogelaere spoke at Science Sunday about explorations and comparisons of Davidson Sea Mount, Sur Ridge and the Monterey Canyon. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has been studying the deep-sea habitats of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary with remote operated vehicles (ROVs) and underwater autonomous vehicles (UAVs). Since 2002 they have documented and classified 19 new species during their explorations. Some of the most impressive creatures they document are deep sea corals.

Deep sea corals can live thousands of years. They are very slow growing invertebrates that in shallow water create a symbiotic relationship with algae to share resources and food. In the deep sea, the corals are carnivores that feed on marine snow – small particulate matter that float in the water column.

The corals at Davidson Seamount and Sur Ridge have been aged with carbon dating to 1500+ years old. Corals lay down growth rings as they age. In these growth rings is evidence of changes in the atmosphere – some corals have radioactive signatures from when above ground nuclear testing occurred.

In addition to corals growing slowly, sea water takes a long time to transit through the deep sea. When water circulates through the world’s oceans it can be at depth for over a thousand years before it reaches the surface again. The particulates in that sea water carry signatures of previous atmospheric conditions and nutrient compositions. Water that gets upwelled during the spring and summer season here in Monterey Bay has been in the deep sea for a very long time!

As these deep-sea areas are explored, scientists are also observing the effects of human activity even in these environments. Dr. DeVogelaere had a good quote he used during his talk. “The creatures of the deep sea knew about us long before we knew about them”. Man-made debris is more prevalent at Davidson Seamount in comparison to the Monterey Canyon or Sur Ridge due to its proximity to the shipping lane approach to San Francisco. However, there is a shipping container on the sea bed in the Monterey Canyon that has been studied since it was discovered seven years ago. The container was tracked back to the ship and company it came from and it turns out the container was lost in rough seas south of Monterey Bay and was carried on the currents until it settled on the sea floor in the canyon.

Our global problem with marine debris / pollution reaches even the most remote places on our planet. Marine snow now contains microplastics that settle on the sea floor so the problem isn’t even completely visible to the untrained eye anymore. We all should participate in daily conservation and become advocates for our planet in whatever small or large ways we can. Whether that means bringing a reusable water bottle with you, writing a letter to a company that uses plastic packaging, participating in a beach clean-up, or something else, we all can do something small each day.