Dept. of Ocean Sciences
University of California at Santa Cruz
UC Santa Cruz, CA 95064
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
P.O. Box 620, Moss Landing, CA 95039
Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
P.O. Box 450, Moss Landing, CA 95039
The wealth of pelagic life in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) is suggested by the abundance of marine bird and mammals that gather to feed on local plankton, fish and squid. Humans likewise have long utilized food from these waters, as shown by abundant fish remains at dozens of archaeological sites, some dating to at least 6200 B.C. (Gobalet 1995). In historic times, waves of immigrants have utilized the pelagic resources of the MBNMS, beginning with the Chinese who took a variety of fish in the 1860s and launched the squid industry several decades later (Lydon 1985). Peak years were the 1930s, when catches of Pacific sardine supported the largest commercial fishery in the western hemisphere and the town of Monterey became a major fishing port (Kawasaki 1991). The fishery collapsed in the 1950s, likely due both to overfishing and to large, natural fluctuations in populations that also affected other marine organisms (Bernal 1979, Baumgartner et al. 1993). The MBNMS still supports a fishery, with a sizable commercial and sport catch that competes with that of local mammals and birds for the same prey (and see Socioeconomic Uses section).
The richness of the pelagic fauna and flora in the MBNMS results from a combination of physical factors related to currents and winds, to topographic features of the region with its deep submarine canyon and diversity of life zones, and to the mixing of communities from different pelagic provinces. The relatively pristine state of some of these communities appears to be a result of the massive size and remoteness of the habitats in which they live, and the relatively short residence time of many pelagic organisms in coastal areas influenced directly by humans. Although the larger species, especially the mammals and fish, have been hunted extensively, many of the smaller species and some of the deeper living forms described below appear to be largely unaffected by human activities.
Pelagic Zone TOC