Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
From tide pools and coastal wetlands to kelp forests and a deep submarine canyon, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary—the largest protected ocean area in the continental United States—is home to an abundance of plants and animals. That's because, like any popular neighborhood, it's got just the right mix of great places to live and eat.
The sanctuary encompasses 6,094 square miles (15,783 km2) of ocean—from waters north of San Francisco to the southern end of the Big Sur coast. A unique combination of geology, weather patterns and currents makes it one of the most productive ocean ecosystems on Earth. Each year animals travel thousands of miles just to reach these rich feeding grounds.

Sunrise at the Monterey Bay Aquarium deck

Life on the Bay

Our ocean-view decks offer a great vantage point to spot wildlife in the sanctuary, from sea otters to humpback whales. Learn more

Our Exhibits Dive Deep to Explore the Bay

Monterey Bay Aquarium is unique because our living exhibits mirror the richness and diversity of the sanctuary, letting you see the bay's varied neighborhoods and the creatures that live there.


Rocky Shore

This rugged place is transformed by each crashing wave. The animals that live here have adapted to thrive in a world that's always in motion. Explore this exhibit
Aviary at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Sandy Shore & Coastal Wetlands

Beaches and dunes are shaped by wind and waves. Mud flats and marshes teem with life. They're a feeding stop for migratory birds and a nursery and sheltered home for other animals. Explore this exhibit
Leopard shark in the Kelp Forest at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Kelp Forest

From its base on the rocks to its broad canopy above, a kelp forest provides homes and food for hundreds of animals of all shapes and sizes. Explore this exhibit
Sevengill shark

Monterey Bay Habitats

Beneath the bay lie rocky reefs, the sandy seafloor, shale reefs and wharf pilings. Each habitat is home to different creatures. Explore this exhibit
Hammerhead shark

Open Sea

In this blue world of wide-open spaces, animals never rest. They live their lives on the move, swimming or drifting. Explore this exhibit
Big red jelly

Deep Sea Canyon

There's a vast chasm below the bay; a world that's dark and cold. The animals that live there have adapted to weightlessness, almost total darkness and infrequent meals. Explore this exhibit

Why's the Sanctuary So Special?

It's home to 34 species of marine mammals, more than 180 species of seabirds and shorebirds, at least 525 species of fishes, and an abundance of seaweeds. A unique combination of geology, weather patterns and ocean currents create the perfect environment for each and every one!

Bait ball

The café's got a great menu

Winds drive a process called upwelling that brings cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface where it fuels a vibrant food web—from tiny plankton and copepods to squid and schooling fishes like sardines and mackerel. With a banquet like that, almost everyone can find something to eat here.

High and low tide

Surf's up...and down

In some parts of the world there's virtually no variation between high tide and low tide while other places see extreme fluctuations. Here, the tides ebb and flow moderately, creating great housing opportunities for animals that live on rocky and sandy shores.

Where different worlds meet

The water temperature in Monterey Bay is usually between 49 and 55 degrees F (9-13 C), depending on the season. Because the bay is located about halfway between Alaska and Mexico, cooler water from northern currents and warmer water from the south bleed across the boundaries, bringing the animals that thrive in those waters with them. 
The Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon

The Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon

This huge chasm slopes from a depth of about 60 feet (18 m) just offshore of Moss Landing, to nearly 12,000 feet (3,656 m) at its end 60 miles (97 km) out to sea. The largest undersea canyon on the West Coast of the United States, it creates deep-sea habitats close to shore with a wealth of animals not found in shallower waters. Waters over the submarine canyon attract blue and humpback whales, dolphins and seabirds. At our partner organization, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), scientists and engineers explore and study the canyon, working together to monitor the pulse of the ocean.
Protection of animals and habitats

Protection of animals and habitats

The first European arrivals on the West Coast saw ocean wildlife only as a source of wealth, and hunted many animals to near extinction. In the 20th century, international treaties and national laws gave them protection. Now, many species are on the rebound. Starting in the 1930s, far-sighted individuals recognized that ocean habitats, as well as animals, needed to be protected, too. Today, marine protected areas and places like Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary are having a positive impact. The Aquarium—through our growing Conservation & Science initiatives—is contributing in many ways to a future with a healthy ocean.

Monterey Bay shoreline
Colorful invertebrates cover a rocky reef off south Monastery Beach, near the Point Lobos State Marine Reserve

Sanctuary Stats

  • This federally protected marine area offshore of California's central coast was established in 1992.
  • As one of our nation's largest marine sanctuaries, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary stretches from Marin County to Cambria, encompassing a shoreline length of 276 miles (444 km) and 6,094 square miles (15,783 km2) of ocean.
  • The deepest point of the sanctuary lies 10,663 feet (3,250 m) below the surface in the Monterey Canyon, which is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon.
  • The sanctuary contains our nation's largest kelp forests and one of North America's largest underwater canyons.
  • 34 species of marine mammals, more than 180 species of seabirds and shorebirds, at least 525 species of fishes, and an abundance of seaweeds live in this remarkably productive marine environment.
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