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You are here: Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau > Monterey Attractions > Nature > Fascinating Creatures

Fascinating Creatures




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Get the Skinny on Gray Whales

The Gray whale is making its second recovery from the brink in as many centuries. Once numbering as many as 50,000 animals, they were killed for their blubber by native hunters and shore-based commercial whalers from Mexico to the Arctic. In the 1890s, they numbered fewer than 2000. Kerosene made whale oil obsolete in the late 1800s, but the hunt resumed in the 1920s and '30s, and the recovering population was hit again.

After several decades of protection, Gray whales are finally returning to the coastal waters in strength, with around 23,000 animals recorded by researchers. The months between January and April are the perfect time to observe Grays from a whalewatching cruise or flight, as they make their way between the Bering Sea and Baja California.






Nature: Fascinating Creatures


 Fascinating CreaturesMonterey County is full of fascinating wildlife. Land and sea inhabitants range from the largest creatures on earth, the blue whales, to the delicate black and orange-winged monarch butterflies. Many live here year-round while others stop on their annual migrations. It's a bird-watcher's paradise, with peregrine falcons, regal bald eagles, condors, snowy plovers and elegant blue herons making this their home. Many tours explore the habitats of the fascinating creatures of Monterey County, on the sea, on land and in the skies, ever mindful of the delicate balance between humans, this magnificent environment, and the creatures that dwell here.

Elkhorn Slough is one of California's largest coastal wetlands. The Elkhorn Slough Safari is a seven-mile ride on a 27-ft. pontoon boat that leaves Moss Landing to give the visitor an exceptional, two-hour look at slough ecology (advance reservations are required). Otters, harbor seals, and hundreds of species of waterfowl and migratory shorebirds live here, feeding off the plants and small animals of the slough. Each season offers a different experience.

Whale Watching
Bird Watching
Butterflies
Otters

Seals
Pelicans
Monterey Bay Sanctuary Wildlife Viewing Calendar




Whale Watching

Whale watching is great off Monterey’s coast. Year-round, gray, blue, humpback and orca whales migrate by the bay; our Wildlife Viewing Calendar will tell you who's in town when. One of the most inspiring experiences is catching a glimpse on the horizon of the distinctive shape of their spume as they exhale, only to realize another whale has surfaced incredibly close to your boat. Schools of dolphins can be seen playing in the waves, as well. Visit our Whale Watching page for more information and tours.

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Bird Watching

Several bird sanctuaries protect the birds of Monterey County. Condors, peregrine falcons, red-shouldered hawks, egrets, Canada geese, and many other sea and shore birds make the forests, cliffs, beaches and marshes of Monterey their home.

The Ventana Wilderness Society's mission is to "perpetuate the animal and plant species native to central California coast through wildlife and habitat restoration, research and education." Public participation is encouraged through the bird banding program that takes place every day, weather permitting. The Sanctuary was responsible for successfully restoring the area's bald eagle population over a 10-year period, and has been instrumental in returning condors to the wild both along Big Sur and inland in the Pinnacles National Monument.

Carmel River State Beach's eastern marsh is a protected sanctuary for kites, harriers, swallows, hawks, mallards, terns, and other birds. The Marina Dunes Open Space Preserve is an endangered species habitat for Smith's blue butterfly, the snowy plover and others.

Several specialist tour guides conduct guided birding walks, such as Monterey Birding Adventures, based at Elkhorn Slough. Shearwater Journeys takes birdwatchers out on the bay by boat. Among the habitats tours explore are: South County, Pinnacles National Monument, Point Lobos, and the Monterey Peninsula. In addition, the Monterey Audubon Society meets twice a week at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.

Check our park listings for other great places to watch the birds.

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Butterflies

Each year, the monarch butterflies return to Pacific Grove. They are protected by law and anyone who harms or disturbs the butterflies is subject to a $1,000 fine. 40,000 to 60,000 of the delicate travelers come through town each year. George Washington Park on Pine and the Monarch Grove Sanctuary off Lighthouse are places to view the butterflies. The locals celebrate the return of the butterflies with a parade each year, and have given their town the moniker "Butterfly Town, USA." To honor the butterflies, a marble and granite butterfly statue by Gordon Newell stands at Lover's Point, and a statue by Chris Bell, of two children in butterfly costumes, graces the front of the Pacific Grove Post Office.


Video! Monarchs of Pacific Grove
3:15 min. Recommended for high speed connections only.


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Otters

Sea otters are some of Monterey County’s real charmers. Their playful antics delight visitors and residents alike. They can be seen at Municipal and Fisherman's Wharf, Cannery Row, the Breakwater, Lover's Point, Otter Point, Point Piños, Point Joe, Bird and Seal Rocks, Cypress Point, Pescasdero Point, Carmel Point, and Point Lobos. Some tips for otter-spotting: listen for the distinctive tap-tap of rock on shellit’s likely to be an otter cracking open a lunch of abalone or clams. When they’re ready to nap, otters twist strands of kelp around their bodies, to keep from drifting. To learn more about otters, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium web site at www.mbayaq.org. Ottersonce slaughtered for their soft, dense furare now protected by law.

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Seals and Sea Lions

Harbor seals, sea lions and elephant seals are fascinating residents of the Central Coast. They often baskand bark!on the beaches and rocks of the Coast Guard pier, at Lovers Point, further down the coast at Bird and Seal Rock in Pebble Beach, and at Point Lobos. These pungent sea creatures inhabit the same areas as otters, and can often be seen piled on mile markers, dinghies, floating docks, and indeed any available spaces around the harbor. Especially during the birthing season, these mammals' privacy must be respected, and screens may block your view on 17 Mile Drive. They are protected by law, and you should keep your distance.

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Pelicans

Pelicans, those huge, modern pterodactyls, appear to be smiling as they fly in formation over the bay. Their pouches serve as fish-catchers (holding up to three times more than their stomachs), bowls for their young, and air-conditioning units since the birds can't sweat. Brown pelicans can be seen all along the coast, especially at Elkhorn Slough, Marina Open Space Preserve, Fisherman's Wharf, MacAbee Beach, and Asilomar State Park and Beach. (See park listings on our web site.) They are listed as an endangered species.

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