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Monterey Bay Whale Watch - Pinnipeds

California Sea Lion Harbor Seal Northern Elephant Seal Northern Fur Seal
Click on small pictures below to see full-size photos (size 17K - 26K).


Five species of pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) occur in Monterey Bay. California Sea Lions and Harbor Seals inhabit the Bay year-round and are seen on all trips. Northern Elephant Seals and Northern Fur Seals are occasionally sighted at sea during our longer summer and fall trips. Steller Sea Lions are a rare visitor to the Bay.

--- California Sea Lion ---

Thumbnail of California sea lion Sea Lions are one of the most abundant marine mammals found along the Monterey coast. One of the main haul-out sites for Sea Lions is the Coast Guard breakwater in the Monterey Harbor, where there can be over 1,000 sea lions resting on the rocks or in the water. California Sea Lions are a highly intelligent, curious, and playful species. Sea Lions breed to the south, on the Channel Islands, during the summer. At this time, most of the adult males and some juveniles leave Monterey for their rookeries. After mating, the males migrate north again and the females remain in southern California waters. Sea Lion numbers peak off Monterey from fall through spring. Sea Lions are also a regular sight at sea where they at times are seen in groups of more than 100 feeding on schooling fish or squid, either by themselves or with dolphins and whales.

--- Harbor Seal ---

Thumbnail of harbor seal Harbor Seals are a year-round resident of Monterey Bay. These seals are easily identified by their spotted coat, usually white with dark spots or dark gray with light spots. Unlike sea lions, Harbor Seals have shorter flippers and must use low-lying rocks or sandy beaches as haul-out sites. These seals are easily observed along the Monterey shoreline where they haul out during low tides, or while they rest in the water and feed within the kelp forest. During April and May, Harbor Seals aggregate in Carmel Bay to give birth and mate.

--- Northern Elephant Seal ---

Thumbnail of Northern elephant seal Once nearly hunted to extinction, Northern Elephant Seals have rebounded to over 100,000 individuals. Adult males, distinguished by their large nose and size, are more than three times the size of females. These seals spend most of their time at sea and are known to be one of the deepest divers of all marine mammals. They come to shore only during the breeding and molting seasons. The main Elephant Seal rookery off Central California is at Ano Nuevo Island (northern Monterey Bay), where the seals gather by the thousands during the winter. At this time, females give birth to their pups and males battle one another as they compete for harems of females. After the mating season, seals head out to sea and are occasionally seen resting near the surface between diving bouts.

--- Northern Fur Seal ---

Thumbnail of Northern fur seal Similar to Elephant Seals, Fur Seals also spend most of their time at sea and travel back to offshore islands only during the breeding season. Fur Seals are easily distinguished from Sea Lions by their long flippers, whiskers, and ears. They are frequently sighted at sea off Monterey during the fall, winter, and spring. At sea, they are usually found alone resting in their distinctive "jug handle" position, with their hind flipper and fore flipper curled up together.


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Photographs by Nancy Black.