sea otter

Special Sighting: Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Sightings from Monterey Bay Whale Watch vessel Sea Wolf II

This whale watching trip was an 8 hour expedition with the intent of finding killer whales. Monterey Bay Whale Watch offers these 8 hour trips in April and May.

We first headed out of the harbor around 8am, looking out for sea otters.

There were lots of sea lions resting on the jetty as well as a few playing in the water.

Near the jetty we saw male cormorants gathering nesting material and bringing it to their partners, who were building the nests.

We headed west until we got to the deep canyons of Monterey Bay. At that point we spotted a group of 50-100 Risso’s dolphins.

There were newborn calves in the group, identifiable by the presence of fetal folds. The calves stuck close to their mothers.

Risso’s dolphins do not bowride like smaller dolphins might, so we moved at slow speeds around the animals.

There were also several black-footed albatrosses in the area.

By the end of the trip I saw dozens of albatrosses, including one group of six sitting together on the water.

After we left the Risso’s dolphins, we headed west again for a bit, where we found a few humpback whales.

Two of the humpbacks were feeding together while birds and sea lions flocked around them.

We spent about twenty minutes with these animals.

After that we headed back to the south, where there were reports of more humpback whales from other whale watching boats. When we approached, we found a humpback mother and calf.

The calf was breaching for several minutes straight, allowing for lots of opportunities to photograph it.

We got a good view of the ventral side of the whale, where the umbilicus was visible.

We also saw fluke dives from both animals and some pectoral fin slaps from the calf.

After spending some time with the mother and calf we continued on south in search of some reported Pacific White Sided dolphins, but the wind was picking up and we eventually had to turn around and head back to the dock.

On the way in we stopped to look at some very cute sea otters who were eating mussels inside the harbor.

We also got a last look at the cormorants and the sea lions before we disembarked.

Special Sighting: Estero Bluffs State Park

Sighting from January 17, 2019 at Estero Bluffs State Park in Cayucos, CA.

Warning: This post includes a photo of a recently stranded dolphin. The photo is not graphic, but the animal is deceased. The photo is the last one in the post.

Estero Bluffs State Park is a beautiful protected area. There are multiple access points from highway 1, making for a secluded adventure. The day we went was misty, right after a lot of rain. This created many small rivers flowing down to the cliffs and the sea. Morro Rock was just barely visible in the distance.

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Wandering along the cliff’s edge, we spotted a multitude of sea and shorebird species, including black turnstones, western grebes, and a surf scoter.

We spotted a couple of egrets hunting in the grass.

Some species, like whimbrels, sandpipers, and the black turnstones, were looking for food in the intertidal zone or up on the bluffs.

Many were bathing in puddles, including a savannah sparrow.

It was high tide. We spotted dozens of harbor seals poking their heads out of the water.

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As we made our way north, my friend Alicia pointed out a burrowing owl right on the edge of the cliff. It was staring straight at us. We gave it a wide berth so as not to disturb it.

The water farther north was a little less protected, so we saw larger surf. There were harbor seals and sea otters in the surf. One pair of sea otters appeared to be a mother and pup, feeding and playing in the kelp.

In this area we spotted a pair of black oystercatchers on the rocky beach.

We slowly turned and headed back south. The tide had gone out significantly and as we came back to our first spot we noticed that lots of the harbor seals were now resting on rocks instead of swimming.

We also spotted a pair of turkey vultures flying low overhead and eventually resting on the bluff edge.

With the ebb of the tide, we also noticed what appeared to be a common dolphin carcass. It was fresh with only a few small scratches on its body. I took the coordinates of the location and called the Morro Bay Marine Mammal Center. They responded to the call and recovered and necropsied the animal later that day.

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Special Sighting: Morro Rock

Sightings from January 16 at Morro Rock and Morro Rock Beach in Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo County, CA.

I have a sister on the sailing team at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who always tells me stories of the sea otters she spots during their practices. During a visit to see her, I made my way out to Morro Rock to spot some otters for myself. Luckily for me, otters live in Morro Bay year round and are easy to spot from the shore.

As we walked along the path between the parking lot and Morro Rock, we spotted several otters in the channel. They floated on their backs, eating or cleaning themselves.

According to the Morro Bay National Estuary Program, at one point “sea otters were once hunted almost to extinction for their thick pelts….They were so scarce that they were thought to be extinct along the California Coast. However, one small group of otters survived along the coast of Big Sur; this group was first sighted in the 1930s. The otters that you see in Morro Bay today are descended from this population.”

Morro Rock is also an important nesting site for raptors. Read more about the amazing recovery of raptor populations in San Luis Obispo here. We spotted both osprey and peregrine falcons.

There were also a number of seabirds and shorebirds closer to the water.

On the other side of the rock, near Morro Rock Beach, we spotted a pelican in breeding plumage.

The wind and surf were high and we caught some surfers in action as well.

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