Fall 2015 is a banner year for whales in Northern California, and Monterey Bay is an ideal place to view them, along with other forms of ocean wildlife.
The combination of a strong El Nino and a large swath of warm water in the Pacific that scientists are calling "The Blob" is causing marine mammals to flock northwards, where large schools of anchovies are gorging on plankton.
Large amounts of krill and plankton migrate upward daily from the cold waters of the Monterey Trench, a deep underwater canyon just off the coast. The presence of the krill, anchovies and other micronutrients make the Monterey coast the perfect place to see a broad spectrum of ocean wildlife, and currently, because of the ocean conditions, we are having a whale bonanza!
The great thing about whale watching off the Northern California coast is that you don't have to go out on a boat. There are enough cliffs and rocky outcrops from where you can see a lot of whales feeding quite close to shore.
On a calm morning last week, I headed to Point Lobos for the first time, with the intent of photographing sea otters in kelp.
I walked down one of the main trails towards a bluff on a reconnaissance mission, without my camera, thinking to myself that this location was much too high up, and unless I could get down to ocean-level, I would go somewhere else.
I grumbled to myself and thought, "I'll just see what's around the next corner and then I'll leave," and as I turned the corner, I saw a Humpback Whale, "standing" perpendicular, three quarters of the way out of the water, just off the bluff, right in front of me.
I ran back to my vehicle, grabbed my camera, and returned to the bluff. There were 7 humpback whales, over a dozen dolphins, sea lions and all manner of sea birds feasting on a massive school of anchovies, very close to the beach. So close, that when the whales surfaced, lunge feeding, I couldn't fit them all in the camera frame.
The amazing thing was that after 4.5 hours that I was there, the whales were still feeding! Imagine how much fish must be present in an area for 7 whales to be able to feed constantly for over 4 hours!