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  • Writer's pictureAlyce Bender

The Wild Side of Monterey, CA

Before moving to the area, I always pictured California as a sunny, traffic-logged, and crowded state. At least I was right about the traffic, though I wish I wasn't.

Monterey has been surprising in many ways. Temperature-wise it is typically in the 60s year round. We get a marine layer fog, much like the famed Carl in San Francisco, which hangs around more often than not. The Bay has rocky shores at either end with a long sandy coast in the middle. This bay also hides a giant submarine canyon - think the Grand Canyon, but underwater - that is over a mile deep and is the reason the Bay holds so much life year round.

Due to this canyon and the various marine environments found around Monterey Bay, this area is a hotbed for marine and coastal wildlife.

Starting with the Bay itself, whales are the star of the show and can be viewed throughout the year. Humpbacks are most prevalent and are some of the best performers when it comes to being able to watch various behaviors like lunge feeding, chin slapping, and even breaching.

We also have a variety of dolphin species that are seen on occasion. Pacific White-sided dolphins, Risso's, Northern Right Whale dolphins, and Common dolphins are just some of the species seen here.

In spring, the Bay is visited by orcas as they follow the migration of the grey whales and their calves. I hope to be able to photograph these beauties this coming year as I arrived just after they left the area this year.

Moving a bit closer to land, the harbors, coves, and estuaries are filled with all sorts of life. Regulated by the tides more-so than the sun, it pays to know when high and low tide is during your visit.

Shore and wading birds flock to the area by the thousands. Common sightings include herons, stilts, curlews, sandpipers, plovers, terns, pelicans, gulls and cormorants.

The Californian sea lion is typically heard before it is seen and can take over harbor docks. It is very important to remember that these animals car predators and have been known to bite people who get to close. The sea lion also hunts alongside the humpback whales and can often be used as an indicator as to when and where feeding whales will surface as the sea lions come bubbling up from the dive just ahead of the whales.

Every once in a while we will receive a Steller's sea lion visiting this far south. It is when these two species are side by side you can really appreciate the size difference. Californian sea lions are large as it is but are dwarfed by the Steller's.

Harbor seals are smaller, rounder, and have dappled coats versus the sea lion's solid brown coloration. They can be seen thermal-regulating, hauled out on sandy spits and in quiet coves along the bay. Again, do not disturb these creatures if you happen to come across them while exploring the coast. At the slightest hint of danger they slip back into the sea, meaning they may sacrifice warmth, rest, or the feeding of their pups if disturbed.

Then we have my personal favorite, the Southern Sea Otter! Once thought to be extinct, there is now a population of about 3,000 today due to concentrated conservation efforts. Still endangered, the primary viewing habitat of the Southern sea otter is here in Monterey Bay.

In the highland areas, where coastal live oaks and Monterey pines create shaded rolling hills, another set of animals resides. Turkeys, red tailed hawks, osprey, hummingbirds, and a wide range of songbirds fill these. Black tailed deer, coyotes, Californian ground squirrels, pocket gophers, and bobcats are just some of the mammals that also call these areas home.

Overall, for such a small area, and one that I initially thought was nothing more than overpriced housing, golf courses, and tourist traps, Monterey has an amazing wild side.

If you are interested in seeing it for yourself, contact me for your own personal Wild Monterey Photo Adventure where I will put as much of this wildlife in front of your lens as possible between sunrise and sunset. For more details, just click here.

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