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Monterey Bay Whale Watch - Dolphins

Pacific White-Sided Dolphin Risso's Dolphin Northern Right Whale Dolphin Common Dolphin
Bottlenose Dolphin Dall's Porpoise Harbor Porpoise
Click on small pictures below to see full-size photos (size 11K - 24K).


--- Pacific White-Sided Dolphin ---

Pacific White-Sided Dolphin Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, endemic to the North Pacific, are one of the most abundant cetaceans along the central and northern California coastline, often found in herds numbering over several hundred individuals. Monterey Bay, especially the canyon edge which facilitates upwelling and concentrates prey, likely provides an abundant and predictable food source for these dolphins. They feed on small schooling fish and squid. Risso's Dolphins and Northern Right Whale Dolphins, also utilizing this abundant food source, are frequently found in mixed-species herds with Pacific White-Sided Dolphins.

Photo-identification of individual White-Sided Dolphins exemplifies the importance of the area for this species. Especially helpful as "herd markers" are anomalously colored or "white" dolphins that are very distinctly marked and easily sighted within a large school of dolphins. Resightings of distinct individuals indicates that particular groups of dolphins frequent the Monterey area at least seasonally and return to the area in subsequent years rather than new groups of animals continually moving through.

All behavioral states have been observed for these dolphins in the Bay, including travel, feed, rest, and socialize/play. White-Sided Dolphins are one of the most acrobatic and animated species of dolphin in the world, often engaging in multiple mid-air leaps, flips, and somersaults. These dolphins occur year-round in the Bay.

--- Risso's Dolphin ---

Risso's dolphin Risso's Dolphin is a relatively large (13') pelagic dolphin found worldwide in warm temperate and tropical seas. In Monterey Bay, these dolphins can be found year-round with school sizes ranging from 10 to over 1000 individuals. Risso's Dolphins are often in the company of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins and Northern Right Whale Dolphins. Risso's Dolphins feed mainly on squid and are frequently encountered in the deeper parts of the Bay.

--- Northern Right Whale Dolphin ---

Northern Right Whale dolphin Like the Pacific White-Sided Dolphin, Northern Right Whale Dolphins are endemic to the North Pacific, with an overlapping range. These dolphins are unique, in that they have no dorsal fin or dorsal ridge of any kind. They are generally a pelagic, offshore species; however, due to the nearshore submarine canyon in Monterey Bay, this species is frequently encountered, most often in mixed species groups with other dolphins.

--- Common Dolphin ---

Common Dolphin Common Dolphins are found worldwide, generally in warm water areas. These dolphins have become increasingly more abundant in the Bay since the last El Niño or warm water period occurred in 1982-1983. Two different species occur in Monterey Bay: the Short Beaked and Long Beaked Common Dolphin. The Long Beaked is more common and most abundant from late summer through winter. Common Dolphins are found in large, cohesive groups of up to 5,000 or more individuals.

For more about Common Dolphins, see Feature Story, Common Dolphins in Monterey Bay.

--- Bottlenose Dolphin ---

Bottlenose Dolphin Like the Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin have been sighted within the Bay more frequently since 1983. These dolphins can be found in small groups very near shore, often just outside the breaking surf. They are year-round inhabitants of the Bay.

--- Dall's Porpoise ---

Dall's Porpoise The Dall's Porpoise is endemic to the North Pacific in cool waters and is the most frequently sighted cetacean off central and northern California. Unlike most of the dolphin species, Dall's Porpoise are found in small groups of 3-20 individuals. In Monterey Bay, they are year-round inhabitants that are closely associated with the canyon edges. Along with the dolphin species, they are avid bowriders.

--- Harbor Porpoise ---

Harbor Porpoise Another year-round resident of Monterey Bay, Harbor Porpoise are found in shallow sandy bottom regions of the Monterey Bay shelf. Harbor Porpoise are found in small groups and generally do not approach vessels.


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Photographs by Nancy Black.