Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, endemic to the North Pacific, are one of the
most abundant cetaceans along the central and northern California coastline,
often found in herds numbering over several hundred individuals. Monterey
Bay, especially the canyon edge which facilitates upwelling and concentrates
prey, likely provides an abundant and predictable food source for these
dolphins. They feed on small schooling fish and squid. Risso's Dolphins and
Northern Right Whale Dolphins, also utilizing this abundant food source, are
frequently found in mixed-species herds with Pacific White-Sided Dolphins.
Photo-identification of individual White-Sided Dolphins exemplifies the
importance of the area for this species. Especially helpful as "herd markers"
are anomalously colored or "white" dolphins that are very distinctly marked
and easily sighted within a large school of dolphins. Resightings of distinct
individuals indicates that particular groups of dolphins frequent the
Monterey area at least seasonally and return to the area in subsequent years
rather than new groups of animals continually moving through.
All behavioral states have been observed for these dolphins in the Bay,
including travel, feed, rest, and socialize/play. White-Sided Dolphins are
one of the most acrobatic and animated species of dolphin in the world, often
engaging in multiple mid-air leaps, flips, and somersaults. These dolphins
occur year-round in the Bay.
Risso's Dolphin is a relatively large (13') pelagic dolphin found worldwide
in warm temperate and tropical seas. In Monterey Bay, these dolphins can be
found year-round with school sizes ranging from 10 to over 1000 individuals.
Risso's Dolphins are often in the company of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins and
Northern Right Whale Dolphins. Risso's Dolphins feed mainly on squid and are
frequently encountered in the deeper parts of the Bay.
Like the Pacific White-Sided Dolphin, Northern Right Whale Dolphins are
endemic to the North Pacific, with an overlapping range. These dolphins are
unique, in that they have no dorsal fin or dorsal ridge of any kind. They are
generally a pelagic, offshore species; however, due to the nearshore
submarine canyon in Monterey Bay, this species is frequently encountered,
most often in mixed species groups with other dolphins.
Common Dolphins are found worldwide, generally in warm water areas. These
dolphins have become increasingly more abundant in the Bay since the last El
Niño or warm water period occurred in 1982-1983. Two different species occur in
Monterey Bay: the Short Beaked and Long Beaked Common Dolphin. The Long Beaked
is more common and most abundant from late summer through winter. Common Dolphins
are found in large, cohesive groups of up to 5,000 or more individuals.
Like the Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin have been sighted within the Bay
more frequently since 1983. These dolphins can be found in small groups very
near shore, often just outside the breaking surf. They are year-round
inhabitants of the Bay.
The Dall's Porpoise is endemic to the North Pacific in cool waters and is
the most frequently sighted cetacean off central and northern California.
Unlike most of the dolphin species, Dall's Porpoise are found in small groups
of 3-20 individuals. In Monterey Bay, they are year-round inhabitants that are
closely associated with the canyon edges. Along with the dolphin species,
they are avid bowriders.
Another year-round resident of Monterey Bay, Harbor Porpoise are found in
shallow sandy bottom regions of the Monterey Bay shelf. Harbor Porpoise are
found in small groups and generally do not approach vessels.