Humpback and Blue Whales are Here!
August has been a tremendous sighting month for both Humpback and Blue Whales! Large groups of both species of whales have been sighted on numerous days feeding on massive amounts of krill. Krill is a small shrimplike animal about a quarter inch long and is an important food source for many animals in the Bay, especially the large whales.
Blue Whales in Monterey Bay
The Blue Whale is the largest whale and the largest animal ever to live
on earth, reaching lengths of over 90 feet off California! One Blue Whale
eats about 4 tons of krill everyday or 40 million individual krill.
Krill in the Monterey Canyon
Monterey Bay is characterized by the largest and deepest submarine canyon on the west coast and the only one that closely approaches shore. It's similar in size to the Grand Canyon. Also, the central California coast is a prime upwelling zone, meaning deep nutrient-rich cold water near the bottom is driven to the surface by the combination of winds, the contour of the coastline and the rotation of the earth. When this rich water reaches the surface the sun fuels the production of plankton blooms. Krill feed on this microscopic plankton and whales feed on the krill. The krill often concentrate along the edges of the Monterey Canyon, which makes the whales very accessible to our trips departing from the Monterey Harbor. There is nowhere else along the coast where Blue Whales can be sighted so close to shore. Monterey Bay is a special area and is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Blue Whales Feed on Krill
recent trips we have spotted lunge-feeding Blue Whales, often feeding
in groups of two, simultaneously lunging out of the water with their mouths
wide open to engulf thousands of krill. Looking closely we can even see
the krill spilling out the sides of their mouths. Their massive rows of
baleen catch the krill like a filter.
Watching the Playful Humpback Whales
Humpback Whales have also been abundant in the Bay, often displaying their playful antics such as breaching, tail slapping, pec slapping, and displaying "friendly" behavior towards our boat. This intriguing behavior by Humpbacks has been increasing in recent years as these endangered whales are fully protected. Sometimes while our boat is just drifting the Humpbacks will swim over and roll around and spyhop next to the boat, often covering everyone with whale breath. This is an incredible sight and those lucky enough to witness it swear it is something they will never forget and often it is the highlight of their vacation, as these whales are curious and trusting enough to approach us on their own.
Scientists Study Blue and Humpback Whales
and Humpback Whales still hold many mysteries and various scientists continue
to study them. Biologists on Monterey Bay Whale Watch trips photograph
the whales with a telephoto lens to identify individuals by their natural
markings. We send the identification photos to Cascadia Research, where
they are matched to id photos of known whales or added to the catalogs
if they are of new individuals. This method is critical in making accurate
population estimates and monitoring the recovery of these endangered whales.
So far the news is good and the whales are increasing each year. This
summer and fall, scientists will be placing different tags on the Blue
Whales including satellite tags, depth recorders, and acoustic tags to
learn more about the behavior and movements of the whales.