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Discovering the Spectacular Feeding Habits of Whales in Monterey Bay, California with Ocean Safaris

Lunge feeding Humpback whales

Lunge feeding Humpback whales, look closely and you can see the small baitfish jumping out of the humpbacks mouth  

( The photo above was taken with a Nikon D500 70-200mm lens at 140mm 1/640 @ f/14)

Monterey Bay as a Feeding Ground

Monterey Bay is a marine marvel, celebrated for its ecological richness and pivotal role in supporting diverse marine life. Nestled along the central coast of California, this expansive bay serves as a haven for an abundance of marine organisms, attracting a variety of species, including the majestic Humpback whales.

The Geographical Significance of Monterey Bay:  

The sanctuary encompasses a shoreline length of 276 miles and 6,094 square statute miles of ocean, extending an average distance of 30 miles from shore. At its deepest point, MBNMS reaches 12,743 feet (more than two miles).  Monterey Bay boasts a diverse topography, characterized by its underwater canyons, ridges, and unique underwater terrain. Its shape and positioning facilitate the upwelling of nutrient-rich waters from the deep ocean, creating an ideal environment for the proliferation of marine life.

The bay’s strategic location along the Pacific coast contributes significantly to its biodiversity. The mixing of cold, nutrient-rich waters from the deep sea with the warmer surface waters forms the basis of a complex and thriving marine ecosystem.

Abundance of Krill and Small Fish: At the heart of Monterey Bay’s allure for Humpback, Blue, Minke and other whales lies its bountiful supply of krill and small fish. Krill, tiny shrimp-like crustaceans, serve as a primary food source for various marine creatures, including Humpback whales. These minute organisms congregate in vast numbers within the bay, drawn by the nutrient-rich waters.

Furthermore, the bay hosts schools of small fish, such as anchovies and sardines, forming dense shoals that attract predators higher up the food chain, including the Humpback whales. These aggregations of prey species create a veritable feast for these massive marine mammals, offering an abundant and concentrated food source crucial for their survival and sustenance.

The seasonal upwelling of nutrient-rich waters combined with the thriving populations of krill and small fish establish Monterey Bay as a vital feeding ground, making it an irresistible destination for Humpback and Blue whales during their migrations.

The convergence of these factors not only sustains the rich biodiversity within the bay but also contributes significantly to the mesmerizing displays of Humpback whale feeding behaviors that visitors have the opportunity to witness during tours with Ocean Safaris. This unique ecosystem offers an unparalleled opportunity for enthusiasts and nature lovers to witness the intricate balance of nature’s interconnectedness while observing the awe-inspiring feeding habits of these magnificent creatures.

Feeding Behaviors of Humpback Whales

 Most often, Humpback whales engage in feeding activities deep beneath the ocean’s surface. Yet, there are occasions when the fish gather close enough to the top for scientists and whale enthusiasts to witness the feeding process. Instead of the renowned bubble-netting technique commonly observed among whales in Alaska, the Humpback whales in Monterey showcase a behavior known as bubble-blasting.

During bubble-blasting, these whales release vast underwater bubbles that effectively corral and guide the fish into a compact mass known as a bait ball. Subsequently, the whales swiftly lunge through this bait ball, ascending towards the water’s surface, their mouths wide open—an impressive behavior recognized as lunge-feeding (as demonstrated in the accompanying photo) As they execute this maneuver, the whales take in massive mouthfuls of water laden with prey.

Once they secure their catch, the Humpback whales filter their enormous mouthfuls through their baleen plates. These specialized structures allow the whales to expel the water while retaining the trapped fish inside, enabling them to consume their nourishing meal.

Ocean Safaris’ tours provide an unparalleled opportunity to witness these incredible feeding behaviors firsthand. An expert guide aboard the vessel narrate and interpret the actions of the whales, explaining the intricacies of their feeding strategies. As the boat navigates Monterey Bay, visitors have the chance to observe lunge feeding, and other feeding behaviors from a respectful distance, ensuring minimal disturbance to the whales while offering an immersive and educational experience.

By responsibly approaching these majestic creatures, Ocean Safaris aims to create an unforgettable and educational encounter for guests, fostering a deeper appreciation for the intelligence and complexity of Humpback whale feeding behaviors in their natural habitat.

Ocean Safaris Tours: An Unforgettable Experience aboard our vessel SAFARI

Our vessel named SAFARI is specialized for whale-watching and sightseeing in Monterey Bay.   We limit our vessel to just 6 guests and each guest has a comfortable seat with backrests and armrests.  We are low to the water which give us the best platform to view the animals we see.   Safari is a 33’ Zodiac Hurricane with the reliability of twin 300hp motors, while these motors makes the vessel fast they are also very quiet and fuel efficient.

A certified Naturalist and licensed Captain will be with you to answer all your questions.

Best Times to Witness Humpback Whales in Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay in California is a fantastic place to witness humpback whales! The best times to see these majestic creatures in the area typically align with their migration patterns and feeding habits:

Spring Migration:

March to May: Humpback whales start their migration northward during spring. They pass through Monterey Bay during this time, making it an excellent period for sightings.

Summer Feeding:

June to September: While some whales continue their migration, many humpbacks remain in Monterey Bay during the summer. This period is fantastic for observing their feeding behaviors as they take advantage of the rich waters.

Fall Migration:

October to November: As the season changes and food availability shifts, humpbacks start their journey back south. This period might offer opportunities to witness them as they migrate again.

Winter Breeding Grounds:

December to February: Most Humpback whales often move to warmer waters during winter for breeding and calving. While they might not be as abundant in Monterey Bay during this time, Whale sightings can still occur. And we always have lots to see all years around like: Sea lions, Seals, Sea Otters, marine birds, killer whales and so much more

Factors like food availability, ocean temperature, and whale behavior can vary yearly, affecting the precise timing of sightings. However, guided whale watching tours in Monterey Bay are available throughout the year, and give us a call and we can provide insights into the best times based on current whale activity.

Keep in mind that while these are generally good times to see humpback whales, nature can be unpredictable, so sightings aren’t guaranteed

Here are some tips to optimize the chances of spotting humpback whales in Monterey Bay:

Choose the Right Time:

Plan your visit during the prime seasons for whale sightings, typically spring through fall. Consider visiting in late spring or early summer for increased chances as humpbacks feed in the area.

Book a Whale Watching Tour:

Join a guided whale watching tour by Ocean Safaris who know the best spots and have up-to-date information on recent whale sightings. They can maximize your chances of encountering these creatures.

Time of Day Matters:

Early morning tours can often be more fruitful as marine activity tends to increase during these times and before the afternoon breeze arrives

Be Patient and Observant:

Keep your eyes peeled and stay patient. Whales can surface unexpectedly, so scan the horizon and look for blows (spray from their blowholes), splashes, or dorsal fins breaking the water’s surface.

Bring Binoculars and Cameras:

Binoculars can enhance your viewing experience, allowing you to spot whales from a distance. Cameras or smartphones with good zoom capabilities can help capture the moment. We typically use Cameras with 100-400mm lens, but also have wide angle lens available for those time when things get close!  ( The photo above was taken with a Nikon D500 70-200mm lens at 140mm 1/640 @ f/14)

Dress Appropriately:

Wear layered clothing and consider bringing a windbreaker or waterproof jacket, as temperatures on the water can be cooler and conditions might change.  We say dress for the snow in layers to be sure you stay comfortable

Listen to the Naturalists:

Pay attention to the naturalist or captain on board. They provide valuable insights and information about whale behavior, increasing your chances of understanding and spotting these magnificent creatures.

Stay Respectful and Mindful:

Follow guidelines for responsible wildlife viewing. Keep a safe distance from the whales and other marine life to avoid disturbing them. Be mindful of their natural habitat and behavior.

Stay Flexible:

Weather and sea conditions can impact sightings. Stay flexible with your schedule; if one tour doesn’t yield many sightings, consider another trip or time slot.

Remember, while these tips can enhance your chances of seeing humpback whales, wildlife encounters are never guaranteed. Appreciate the beauty of the ocean and enjoy the overall experience of being on the water.

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Humpback whale Lunge feeding out of the water

Humpback whale Lunge feeding out of the water

From $185

Join us for the best Whale Watching Ocean Safari on Monterey Bay.  See humpback whales, blue whales, dolphins, Sea Lions, Otters and more.  Our vessel “Safari” a 33′ Zodiac is ideal for wildlife viewing and photography, with comfortable seats for each guest.  With a maximum of 6 guests, each guest has a front row seat to adventure.