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Five species of pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) occur in Monterey Bay.
California Sea Lions and Harbor Seals inhabit the Bay year-round and are seen
on all trips. Northern Elephant Seals and Northern Fur Seals are occasionally
sighted at sea during our longer summer and fall trips. Steller Sea Lions are
a rare visitor to the Bay.
Sea Lions are one of the most abundant marine mammals found along the
Monterey coast. One of the main haul-out sites for Sea Lions is the Coast
Guard breakwater in the Monterey Harbor, where there can be over 1,000 sea
lions resting on the rocks or in the water. California Sea Lions are a highly
intelligent, curious, and playful species. Sea Lions breed to the south, on
the Channel Islands, during the summer. At this time, most of the adult males
and some juveniles leave Monterey for their rookeries. After mating, the
males migrate north again and the females remain in southern California
waters. Sea Lion numbers peak off Monterey from fall through spring. Sea
Lions are also a regular sight at sea where they at times are seen in
groups of more than 100 feeding on schooling fish or squid, either by themselves or with dolphins and whales.
Harbor Seals are a year-round resident of Monterey Bay. These seals are
easily identified by their spotted coat, usually white with dark spots or
dark gray with light spots. Unlike sea lions, Harbor Seals have shorter
flippers and must use low-lying rocks or sandy beaches as haul-out sites.
These seals are easily observed along the Monterey shoreline where they haul
out during low tides, or while they rest in the water and feed within the
kelp forest. During April and May, Harbor Seals aggregate in Carmel
Bay to give birth and mate.
Once nearly hunted to extinction, Northern Elephant Seals have rebounded to
over 100,000 individuals. Adult males, distinguished by their large nose and
size, are more than three times the size of females. These seals spend most
of their time at sea and are known to be one of the deepest divers of all
marine mammals. They come to shore only during the breeding and molting
seasons. The main Elephant Seal rookery off Central California is at
Ano Nuevo Island (northern Monterey Bay), where the seals gather by the thousands during the winter. At this time, females give birth to their pups and males battle one
another as they compete for harems of females. After the mating season, seals
head out to sea and are occasionally seen resting near the surface between
Similar to Elephant Seals, Fur Seals also spend most of their time at sea and
travel back to offshore islands only during the breeding season. Fur Seals
are easily distinguished from Sea Lions by their long flippers, whiskers, and
ears. They are frequently sighted at sea off Monterey during the fall,
winter, and spring. At sea, they are usually found alone resting in their
distinctive "jug handle" position, with their hind flipper and fore flipper
curled up together.