humpback whales migrate big sur california, whale watching
humpback whales migrate big sur california, whale watching
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Ecology of Big Sur; Humpback Whales

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Humpback Whales on the Central California Coast
Breaching humpback whales - photo by Daniel Bianchetta
Photo by Daniel Bianchetta

The Humpback Whale is an endangered species, occurring in all the world's oceans. The central California population of Humpback Whales migrates from their winter calving and mating areas off Mexico to their summer and fall feeding areas off coastal California. Humpback Whales occur in Monterey Bay area from late April to early December. During this period the whales are here to feed on anchovies, sardines, and krill.

Humpback Whales reach lengths of 50 to 55', are dark in color with distinctive nodules on their rostrum, and have pectoral flippers that are nearly a third of their body length. Current population estimates for Humpback Whales off California conducted by Cascadia Research Collective indicate there are about 800 whales in this population. All whales have been photo-identified by natural markings and coloration on the underside of the tail fluke. From this photo-identification work, the migratory movements, calving intervals, association patterns, and population estimates can be determined for these whales.

WHERE YOU CAN SEE HUMPBACK WHALES:Humpback Whales are in Monterey Bay area to feed and they often shift to various feeding locations depending on prey density. Humpbacks are often observed lunge feeding near the surface or deep diving for prey that is concentrated several hundred feet deep. This whale is the most animated of all the baleen whales, and they are often seen breaching, spyhopping, pectoral fin slapping, and tail lobbing.

Humpback Whales are often seen from the highway turnouts throughout Big Sur. At the junction of Partington Ridge and Highway One there is a deep submarine canyon where the Humpback Whales are seen on a regular basis.

In recent years, many different Humpback Whales in this population often approachs boats for "friendly" encounters. When engaging in this "friendly" behavior, a whale will often circle the boat, rub up against it, spyhop within several feet of the boat, roll on its side and extend its pectoral flipper toward the boat, and often tilt its head with an eye open, appearing to look up at the boat and people on board. This phenomenon has been increasing each year, probably because this new generation of whales that have never known whaling are becoming curious about boats, and they often stay for several hours investigating our boat. This contact is totally initiated by the whales.

Download our local Big Sur Visitors Guide, in Adobe PDF. (1.8Mb)

Text supplied by Monterey Bay Whale Watch, a supplier of whale watching boat tours in Monterey Bay.

Park Ranger Linda Rath standing next to dead, beached Humpback whale.
Photo taken on June 25, 2006. Video was shot on June 26.

Dead Humpback whale on the beach at Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur, California
©Stan Russell - all rights reserved
Big Sur, Calif. -- On Friday, June 23, 2006 a Humpback whale washed up on the beach at Andrew Molera State Park. The whale is about 40 feet in length and 18 feet wide. Originally, the plan was to tow the whale out to sea so as not to stink up the beach but the boat that was to be used and supplied by Monterey Bay Aquirium Research Institute is too small to pull the whale off the beach.

The biologists at the Ventana Wildlife Society could not be happier for their condor reintroduction program. Presently, the California condors have been feeding on a beached Gray whale and they are hoping they will find the Humpback whale and feed on it as well. This scavenging of naturally occuring food sources is the key to the condor's survival, a project staff and volunteers at VWS have worked tirelessly to achieve.
humpback whales migrate big sur california, whale watching

humpback whales migrate big sur california, whale watching
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