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Life on the Bay

The Aquarium sits perched on the edge of Monterey Bay. Our ocean-view decks offer a great vantage point to spot wildlife, from sea otters to humpback whales. In the Marine Mammal Gallery, you'll find life-size models of whales and dolphins swimming overhead, and learn about life on the bay.

Animals Found in Monterey Bay

Southern sea otter

These charismatic critters are among the most easily observed marine mammals in the bay. They’re often spotted floating and foraging among kelp forests along the outer coves and bays but can sometimes be seen off sandy beaches—and even local harbors. Sea otters are a frequent sight off the Aquarium’s ocean-view decks and occasionally even pay a visit to our Great Tide Pool. They’re also found in Elkhorn Slough.

Humpback whale

The humpbacks that visit our bay spend their winters in the warm waters near Costa Rica. Humpbacks, including mothers with newborn calves, travel thousands of miles to feast on krill and schooling fish in our waters. These mega mammals are in the bay from January through November.

Northern elephant seal

Along the California coast, elephant seals breed on the beaches of the Santa Barbara Islands, Año Nuevo and Piedras Blancas. In recent years a few lone young males have started hauling out on some of the small local pocket beaches near the Aquarium from December through January. 

White shark

Monterey Bay is the seasonal home to adult white sharks, which return to California in late summer and early fall after spending months offshore in waters as far west as Hawaii. The sharks gather to feed when naïve juvenile elephant seals assemble together and haul out in colonies along the Central Coast.

More Monterey Bay Animals

Cool Facts

  • Monterey Bay is part of a National Marine Sanctuary stretching from Marin County to Cambria—encompassing a shoreline length of 276 miles (444 km) and 6,094 square miles (15,783 km2) of ocean. Learn more about Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
  • More than 30 species of marine mammals live in or pass through the bay, ranging in size from the four-foot-long sea otter to the hundred-foot-long blue whale.
  • Ever-popular harbor seals and sea otters are year-round residents of Monterey Bay and are visible right from the Aquarium decks.
  • There are 94 kinds of seabirds found locally, including the California brown pelican and the western snowy plover.

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