National marine sanctuary offices and visitor centers closed to the public; waters remain open

NOAA's national marine sanctuary offices and visitor centers are closed to the public while the waters remain open for responsible use in accordance with CDC guidance and local regulations. More information on the response from NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries can be found on

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Whale Watching

The sanctuary offers some of the world's best year-round whale watching!

During the spring and summer, n orthwest winds push the surface water offshore, replacing it with cold water from greater depths. These waters are rich in nutrients, fueling the growth of plankton—the basis for the sanctuary's rich marine food chain. Whales, dolphins, and seabirds concentrate in the sanctuary to feed on an abundance of krill, fish, and squid supported by these intense plankton blooms. These extremely rich waters are centered along the submarine canyons that come close to shore—the perfect place for whales and dolphins to feed. That means you don't have to go out very far to see them. In fact, it's not even uncommon to spot whales and dolphins from shore. Some species come here seasonally, such as grays, humpbacks and blue whales. Other species can be seen year-round, such as minke whales, killer whales and a variety of dolphins and porpoises. Overall 27 species can be seen in the sanctuary. For recent marine mammal sightings in the Monterey Bay area, visit Sanctuary Cruises or Monterey Bay Whale Watch.

Easy and Exciting Encounters

In the 1970s, most species of whales were hard to spot, as their populations were still low due to whaling. Now many species have made a strong recovery. Gray whales are no longer endangered, and humpback and blue whale numbers have increased quite a bit. This means you are very likely to see whales and dolphins on a sanctuary whale-watching trip. And you never know what species you may see. Each day of the week brings new and different sightings. Although NOAA Fisheries guidelines warn all on-water observers to remain a minimum distance of 100 yards from whales and dolphins, sometimes these animals will closely approach a boat. Humpback whales are often curious and may swim right alongside, even rolling side-ways to look up at people. Dolphins and porpoises frequent the bay year-round and seeing several thousand is not an uncommon experience. They are very active and often swim next to a boat, leaping high out of the water beside it.

Whale Watching Tips

Dress Warmly and in Layers

It's can be much colder on the water. Warm hats and gloves are helpful too.

Wear sunscreen and bring sunglasses

It can be very bright on the bay and you can burn easily, even in the fog.

Take sea-sickness precautions

Getting nauseous will ruin your trip. Take seasickness medication at least an hour before you board. Eating a few saltine crackers or ginger may also help.

Wear flat, rubber-soled shoes

You'll want to move around quickly and safely to see the whales. Wearing the proper shoes can prevent a fall on a wet, slippery deck.

Bring your camera or binoculars, but secure them tight

Make sure your gear is strapped securely so a sudden movement doesn't cause them to end up on the bottom of the bay.

Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises in the Sanctuary

Whales, dolphins and porpoises are divided into two groups: toothed and baleen. Baleen whales, such as gray and humpback whales, have hundreds of comb-like plates with stiff bristles growing from the upper jaw to strain small food from huge mouthfuls of water. Toothed whales, including dolphins, porpoises, sperm whales and orcas, use sharp, pointed teeth to catch fish and other large prey. Depending on what time of the year you visit the sanctuary, the most likely species you might see include:

Baleen Whales:


Toothed Whales:


Whale Watching Boat Trip Information

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