Posts Tagged Monterey Bay

May 14 2021

It’s squid season on Monterey Bay

The sight of dozens of squid fishing boats on Monterey Bay is enough to make even longtime locals do a double take. But squid fishing is nothing new — it’s been a part of Monterey’s vibrant history for well over a century. Discover why this slippery — and sustainable — cephalopod is a local legend.

Typically, when you look out across Monterey Bay, you’ll see a few sailboats or fishing vessels. But come springtime, residents of the Monterey area – and some viewers tuning in to our Monterey Bay Live Cam — may see a veritable fleet of fishing boats crisscrossing the bay, their nets dragging behind them. That’s because spring is squid season here on the Central Coast.

Springtime is squid time

The common or California market squid, Doryteuthis opalescens, is one of California’s biggest commercial fisheries. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, landings from California market squid can be worth as much as $70 million per year.

California market squid spawn along the Central Coast each spring.

Each spring, squid show up in large groups along the Central Coast to reproduce. Squid mature quickly and live a short life – soon after spawning, the squid will die. Fishermen take advantage of the squid’s lifestyle. The fishery targets the large aggregations of spawning squid, ideally catching them after they lay their eggs. Squid boats shine bright lights at night – often visible from shore — to attract the squid towards their purse seine nets.

The abundance of squid varies from year to year, often in response to the water temperature and available food supply. El Niño years, when the water temperature is warmer, are notoriously bad for squid fishermen. Other years, upwelling in the Monterey Bay provides the perfect combination of cold water and bountiful krill and other prey items that squid need.


Squid fishing gets its start

In the late 1800s, as Monterey’s fishing industry grew, different groups of fishermen began to compete for access to the bay’s prime fishing grounds. Chinese migrant fishermen found themselves being pushed out of the profitable fishing grounds by other families.

In his book, The Death and Life of Monterey Bay, Steve Palumbi recounts how these fishermen changed their strategy — and subsequently changed California’s fishing industry.

Instead of competing with other fishermen for salmon and other finfish, the Chinese fishermen began to fish for squid – a popular dried product in Asia, but as of yet untapped in California. They fished at night, avoiding direct conflict with other fishermen. The bright torches they burned brought the squid to the surface — the likely predecessor of modern-day squid lights visible on the bay at night.

China still plays a large role in the California market squid fishery today. Most of the squid caught locally is shipped to Asia for processing, before being shipped around the world to be sold — even back to Monterey where it was first caught.

A squid fishing boat sailing in Monterey Bay.

Squid fishing boats are visible on Monterey Bay in spring as fishermen target large groups of spawning California market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens).

California squid is a sustainable seafood choice

Dine at one of the many restaurants along Cannery Row or Fisherman’s Wharf, and you’re sure to find calamari or squid steak on the menu. If you’re tempted by one of these squid dishes, ask if it’s California market squid. If so, go ahead and order it – it’s rated a green Best Choice by the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.

One reason for the Best Choice rating is the health of the California market squid stock. Squid grow up fast, reproduce and die – all within a year. Fishermen target the mature spawners, ideally catching them after they spawn, but before they would have died naturally. This allows the squid population to maintain healthy levels and support a thriving fishery.

Also, because squid gather close together, fishermen can set their purse seine nets around the group of squid, limiting the number of other species caught as bycatch.

The California Department of Fish and Game manages the squid fishery with a permit system that limits access to fishing, seasonal catch limits and weekend closures to give the squid time to reproduce.

If you happen to see the parade of squid boats on Monterey Bay one day, take a moment to celebrate the success of federal and state agencies in sustainably managing the California market squid fishery. Their work means we’ll be able to preserve our ocean backyard, support California fishermen, and enjoy locally caught calamari for the foreseeable future.

Learn more about sustainable seafood — including what you can do to make good seafood choices.

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Originally posted:

Apr 26 2018

Monterey Bay fishermen working round the clock to pull in plentiful catch

Monterey >> Below the surface of Monterey Bay, opalescent market squid are busily creating a new generation, laying eggs in clusters on the seafloor. And at the water’s surface, a fleet of fishing boats are ready to scoop those squid up, continuing a fishing tradition that’s well over a hundred years old.

In Monterey Harbor, a collection of at least eleven boats have been fishing for squid not far from shore since April 1, their lights visible off the coast at night. When the fishing is good, said Joe Russo, second captain and deckhand on the fishing vessel King Philip, it’s not uncommon for them to spend 24 hours a day netting tens of thousands of pounds of slippery squid with each return to shore. They continue through the spring, summer, and into early fall, if they don’t exceed the quota set by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Tons of squid being unloaded from commercial fishing boats at Monterey’s Wharf No. 2 on Wednesday. (Vern Fisher – Monterey Herald)

“From noon on Sunday until noon Friday, as long as there’s fishing you might not sleep for two days,” he said, looking remarkably awake. The crew on his boat, including his father Anthony Russo (captain of the King Philip), rushed to pump the squid out of their hold on Wednesday and into big yellow tubs, each of which holds around 1,500 pounds of catch. As soon as their boat was completely unloaded, they planned to head right back out to the squid. In the meantime the elder Russo ducked inside to catch an hour-long nap.

Market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) is in many years the most productive and valuable fishery in California. This year, with cold water and plenty of food available, plentiful squid are coming into Monterey Bay. But in some years the squid catch plummets — researchers believe that changes in water temperature and food availability associated with El Niño years keep squid populations down. The animals live for less than a year and die after one reproductive effort, which means their population can be wildly variable with yearly conditions.

Fishermen look for aggregations of squid that arrive in the bay to spawn and lay their eggs. Using bright lights, specialized independent “light boats” can attract the animals to the surface at night, trading their services for 20 percent of whatever the fishermen catch. During the day, fishermen look for the squid to collect on their own. Boats like the King Philip, said Russo, capture their squid using purse-seine nets, surrounding the squid with a net that can be closed at the bottom. They pump squid from the net into the boat’s hold, bring it back to shore, and unload at the dock closest to the wherever the fishing is good.

For now, that’s Monterey Harbor. According to John Haynes, harbormaster for the city of Monterey, the amount of squid coming through Monterey can be wildly variable. In 2016, a squid season associated with an El Niño climate event, saw landings valued at about $3.6 million. In 2014, a good squid year brought almost $18 million worth of squid through Monterey Harbor.

From the harbor, squid caught in California is split into several streams. Some becomes bait for other fisheries like rockfish, and some is boxed up and sold to local restaurants, but the majority is frozen and sent to Asia for processing. Some of that squid, processed overseas, comes right back and is resold in California again.

“Squid has become big in the last 15 years,” said Gaspar Catanzaro, a sales associate and chef at Monterey Fish Company, Inc. When Catanzaro was a child in New York, his parents owned a market. “We couldn’t give squid away,” he recalls. Now, he recommends calamari fried or lightly sauteed in a pan with onions, garlic, tomatoes, clam juice, basil, and red chili flakes over pasta.

“Fishing literally put Monterey on the map,” said Catanzaro. Fishermen from China, Italy, and many other countries competed over access to Monterey’s rich marine life; the first local squid fishermen netted their catches from rowboats in the early 1860s. “It’s what Monterey was built for,” said Haynes.

Russo and his crew still use some of the same techniques as the fishermen of old to catch their squid, assembling and repairing their nets by hand. But they have the advantage of engines, winches, and thick steel hulls on their side; at maximum capacity, Russo’s boat can hold 138 tons of squid.

On Wednesday afternoon, one squid boat waited at anchor for its turn to unload at the wharf. In the distance, another boat was circling a school of squid accompanied by a flock of hungry gulls.

“It’s pretty much nonstop,” said Russo.

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Aug 10 2017

Humpback whales gorge in Monterey Bay

Preface: a huge population of anchovies is drawing whales to feed frenzies in Monterey Bay as well as San Francisco Bay and along the California coast.

A pair of humpback whales lunge feed on a school of anchovies while showing off their baleen in July in the Monterey Bay. (Chase Dekker — Sanctuary Cruises)

MOSS LANDING – For the past few weeks, at least 50 to 75 humpback whales have been gorging on krill and anchovies in the Monterey Bay, delighting boaters and whale-watching groups.

Their feeding frenzy is often visible from shore, from Monterey to Santa Cruz, at hot spots such as Aptos’ Seacliff State Beach and Marina Beach, as well as the Santa Cruz, Monterey and Moss Landing harbors.

Rio del Mar resident Rachel Birns said she’s seen humpbacks from her deck overlooking Beer Can Beach every day since July.

A humpback whale breaches out of the waves in July in the Monterey Bay (Chase Dekker — Sanctuary Cruises)

“Every day, I’m like, are they going to leave? And every day they’re still here,” said Birns, who said she checks for them every morning.

“You just keep looking and you’ll see one. You’ll see a blow and then sometimes they’re breaching. Like, I just had a late lunch and my husband goes, ‘They’re breaching,’ so I ran outside,” she said.

Santa Cruz resident and retiree Steve Lawson kayaks the waters between Capitola and Santa Cruz about five days a week.

A trio of humpback whales work together to feed on an anchovy bait ball in July in the Monterey Bay (Chase Dekker — Sanctuary Cruises)

“What can I say, it’s consistent,” said Lawson. “That is, I’m generally seeing one or two whales a day.”

On Wednesday, he saw a humpback with a distinctive curled dorsal fin, which some call “Captain Hook,” a quarter mile offshore Santa Cruz’s Main Beach, where he sometimes sees humpbacks feed. He also often sees humpbacks feeding near Live Oak’s Corcoran Lagoon and Moran Lake, he said.

The humpbacks near shore are following their food: anchovies, said Kate Cummings, naturalist and captain at Blue Ocean Whale Watching, a Moss Landing-based company.

“It’s not unusual, just very awesome,” Cummings said in an email to the Sentinel.
Cormorants roosting on a section that remains of the Cement Ship at Seacliff State Beach have a front row seat as a Humpback Whale puts on a show nearby. Numerous whales and orcas have been seen recently in the Monterey Bay. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

“Humpback whales are in the Monterey Bay throughout the spring, summer and fall to feed, but their proximity to shore makes their presence more obvious to people,” Cummings wrote.

Jim Harvey, director of the Moss Landing Marine Labs, said around June or July is when humpbacks switch their diet, from krill to anchovies.

“This is pretty standard fare for this time of year,” Harvey said. “We usually get a fair amount of whale activity early, as in April, May, June — mostly concentrating (feeding) on krill.”

The krill draws both humpback and blue whales.

As the season progresses and the krill are “mowed down,” the humpbacks switch to anchovies and sardines, which brings the whales closer to shore, Harvey said.

Humpback whales have become a common sight in the Monterey Bay from May to November. What’s more rare are the blue, minke and fin whales that have been spotted in deeper waters in recent weeks, said Nancy Black, captain and owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch, a Monterey Harbor-based company.

Strong northwest winds this spring and early summer have created perfect conditions for krill, since winds generate an upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich waters from the ocean’s depths. About a week ago, the winds stopped and the waters calmed. The krill have begun to accumulate, and so have the whales, Black said.

“We’re seeing blue whales on our trips every day in Monterey. They’re in the bay, on the edge of the canyon, scattered wide. Most of the whale watching trips are seeing blue whales on most of the trips now, because they’re fairly numerous (there),” Black said.

Blue whales are endangered, and tourists fly from all over to the Monterey Bay hoping to see them, Black said.

She has seen fin whales — the second largest whale, next to the blue whale — as well as the much smaller minke whales in the Monterey Bay recently. And on Sunday, she thinks she saw a sei whale, which is the third largest whale, around 20 miles offshore.

“The diversity right now is pretty amazing, to have a chance to see at least three different species of large whales,” Black said. “I wouldn’t say you’re going to see all three for sure on your trip, but they’re out there and conditions are great right now.”

A Humpback Whale surfaces near the pier at Seacliff State Beach Tuesday afternoon. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

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Nov 15 2015

Letters, Nov. 12, 2015: Anchovy population has not collapsed

Anchovy population has not collapsed

I’ve been fishing in Monterey and along the West Coast for more than 30 years and I’m one of only about eight fishermen who fish anchovy in Monterey Bay. I’m shocked at the recent outcry in the media that claims the anchovy population has collapsed!

Environmentalists who are calling for the immediate closure of our local anchovy fishery are basing their claims on a flawed study that deliberately omits data from recent years showing a huge upswing in the anchovy population.

Our sonars mark schools that are hundreds of feet thick, but our nets just skim the surface of these schools. Fishermen up and down the coast are seeing the same thing: anchovies are everywhere.

It’s time to stop pointing fingers at fishermen and get out and see what’s really going on in the ocean.

— Tom Noto, Salinas


Nov 10 2015


Recent sensational media accounts trumpet the collapse of the central anchovy population. Environmental extremists are now calling for emergency closure of the anchovy fishery that takes place primarily in Monterey Bay. This hysteria is based on a study, funded by these same environmentalists, that claims the population has collapsed in southern California, has declined by 99 percent and now is at extremely low levels, with virtually all the fish concentrated nearshore in Monterey Bay.

The scientific paper detailing study findings – still in peer review – is now being criticized for failing to consider the last 5 years of data, which document a big increase in recruitment for anchovy and sardine both in southern California and coast-wide. But that doesn’t stop the extremists from accusing fishermen of, in essence, taking “the last fish.”

We are responding to the outcry in the media with facts and images to illustrate the fallacy of extremist claims of anchovy “collapse.”

Fishermen are the vanguard of ocean observations. Here’s their side of the story:

Corbin Hanson fishes for coastal pelagic species (CPS), mainly in southern CA:

I saw a large volume of anchovy show up on the southern CA coast beginning around 2011. I’ve seen lots of pinhead [small] anchovy in the Santa Barbara channel, and in 2014 Catalina Island was loaded with small anchovy. The largest volume of anchovy I’ve ever seen was running up coast from Point Conception to Monterey this summer – miles of anchovies from 30 fathoms depth to the beach. We couldn’t escape them; it was hard to see the bottom on the fathometer at times. We drove through hundreds of thousands of tons in one night this summer. Other fishermen saw the same thing I did – whales, birds, seals all gorging on anchovy.”

Richie Ashley also fishes for both live bait anchovy and other CPS in S.CA

There has been major tonnage of anchovy in the Los Angeles / Long Beach harbor for more than a year. Almost all of it has been very small “pinhead” size. Another volume of slightly larger anchovy were in front of Newport Beach for several months. In June, Catalina was loaded with small pinhead anchovies – many thousands of tons. At the same time, we saw anchovy in the Santa Barbara channel in daytime as well, a lot of it!

Whoever said there are no anchovies in southern CA has no clue!”

Tom Noto has fished for 30 years, and fishes for anchovy in Monterey.

Fishermen catch anchovy on the edge of Monterey Canyon. These fish like to dive deep. We see schools of anchovy that color our fathometers red from bottom to near top. Our sonars mark schools that are hundreds of feet thick, but our nets just skim the surface of these schools. Fishermen up and down the coast are seeing the same thing: anchovies are everywhere, but we only fish them in Monterey Bay.

The study is wrong and I feel our fishery is being assassinated without cause.”

Neil Guglielmo has been fishing for 57 years up and down the West Coast, and is one of about eight fishermen who fish anchovy in Monterey.

I’m on the water nearly every day and I’ve seen a big surge in the anchovy population in recent years. Anchovies now stretch from the “pinheads” fishermen see in Southern California all the way up the coast past Half Moon Bay, where a large group of whales was recently spotted feeding on anchovies.

Our fishery simply skims the surface of anchovy schools that often run hundreds of feet deep. The allowed anchovy harvest is limited at 25,000 tons, leaving 75 percent of the biomass in the ocean as forage. Bottom line: there are plenty of anchovies in the sea.

To illustrate, Neil photographed his sonar during one night fishing anchovy in Monterey:

AnchovyonsonarThe sonar shows a school of anchovy in front of the boat – one school representing hundreds of tons of fish. Schools this dense are plentiful in Monterey Bay and along the coast from Pt. Conception to Monterey and beyond.


AnchovyonfathoThe fathometer on Neil Guglielmo’s fishing vessel Trionfo marked dense schools of anchovy on the bottom of the ocean across the entire mouth of San Francisco Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge — thousands and thousands of tons of anchovy.


Anchovyfishing-MontereyThe Trionfo fishes for anchovy in Monterey Bay at night when the fish are near the surface. The boat is surrounded by birds, sea lions and other marine life, all eager to help themselves to the catch.


Oct 21 2015

Plenty of anchovies in Monterey Bay, but maybe not elsewhere



Protectionist groups are basing their “crisis” mantra on a paper that chose to ignore the abundance of anchovy observed at nearshore survey sites in southern California in recent years.  In reality, fishermen report abundant anchovies in southern California as well as Monterey Bay.   Here is a comment from one fisherman:


“There has been major tonnage [of anchovy] in the Los Angeles / Long Beach harbor for quite some time — a year plus. Almost all of it has been very small pinhead. There has been pretty good volume of ‘chovy in front of Newport Beach for a couple of months. Little bit bigger than pinhead but not real big. In June, Catalina was loaded with small pinhead anchovy. Front and back of the island. Volume was many thousand ton. At the same time, we would see the anchovy in the channel daytime as well, a lot of it! “  
As the reporter quoted at the end of this story:  the allowable harvest limit for anchovy is very conservative.




Monterey Fish Company worker Geronimo Hernandez feeds anchovies from a chute into iced bins while unloading the El Dorado fishing boat at the Moss Landing Harbor on October 16, 2015. The boat is owned by Frank Aliotti Senior. (David Royal - Monterey Herald)

Monterey >> Things are shifting for fishermen in Monterey Bay.

Market squid are disappearing, and in their place, fishing boats are reeling in piles of anchovies.

But while they appear abundant, conservation groups warn that the forage fish may be at their lowest levels since the 1950s.

“It’s an anomalous year,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association. “Typically these are not the kind of oceanographic conditions that anchovy like. But they are here and they’re really close to shore, which is why we’re having a spectacular year for whale watching.”

Anchovies aren’t just bringing whales into the bay — they’re also attracting fishing fleets.

“There are thousands of tons,” said Sal Tringali, president of Monterey Fish Company, whose fishermen in Moss Landing are landing about 120 tons of anchovies each night and expect to do so for about another month. “There are all the anchovies you want out here.”

Tringali said the majority of his harvest never fills human bellies, as roughly 70 percent of the catch travels to Australia to feed tuna.

Records from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife show that, across the state, fishermen landed 13,508 metric tons of anchovies this year.

That number was fine in previous years, but now it’s dangerous, said Geoff Shester of conservation group Oceana.

“This level of catch is sustainable when the stock is healthy,” Shester said. “But new information shows that the stock is at such a low level right now, it’s literally in a state of collapse.”

Survey cruises conducted by the Southwest Fisheries Science Center detected little to no anchovy eggs from 2010 to 2013. The lack of eggs, coupled with a recent study still in review that suggests anchovy biomass has decreased by over 99 percent from 2005 to 2009, has Shester and his fellow conservationists concerned.

“Every ton we can keep in the water is extremely valuable for the future of anchovies and the amazing multimillion-dollar whale-watching and wildlife-viewing destination that is Monterey Bay,” Shester said.

Shester, along with representatives from four other conservation groups, recently sent a letter to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which oversees fisheries from Washington to California, urging the council to reconsider its anchovy management strategy and conduct a new stock assessment. They argue that because the last anchovy assessment was taken in 1995, current management policy doesn’t apply to modern numbers.

Sit on the docks where anchovies are sorted and you’ll likely see lots of the silvery fish piling up. But it’s a mirage, warns William Sydeman, ecologist of the Farallon Institute, who coauthored the paper that estimated anchovies at low levels.

“People think that if they’re in Monterey Bay, they must be everywhere,” Sydeman said. “They’re not. They’re only in Monterey Bay.”

Sydeman said anchovies tend to aggregate near shore when their numbers are low, giving the appearance of abundance. When numbers are actually strong, he said, the fish expand offshore, disappearing from sight.

“People think, ‘Oh look at all these whales, there must be a ton of fish,’ and that’s probably true,” said Sydeman. “There is a local abundance of anchovies. But it’s local. That doesn’t mean global abundance.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service enforces a cap on anchovies. Josh Lindsay, policy analyst for the service, believes that number is conservative.

“To take a precautionary approach,” Lindsay said, “we took the overfishing limit and told the fishing fleet that they could only catch 25,000 metric tons. That’s a pretty large buffer built into our management.”

The Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet next month to review the latest findings on anchovy numbers.

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Aug 11 2015

Whales putting on a show off Moss Landing

A 50-foot humpback whale, little over a mile offshore Moss Landing Harbor at Monterey Bay, was one of 15 to emerge in near-shore waters right alongside kayaker Giancarlo Thomae -- and one then swam right under his kayak Photo: Giancarlo Thomae,

Photo: Giancarlo Thomae,

A 50-foot humpback whale, little over a mile offshore Moss Landing Harbor at Monterey Bay, was one of 15 to emerge in near-shore waters right alongside kayaker Giancarlo Thomae — and one then swam right under his kayak

This might be the real “Greatest Show on Earth.”

A pod of 15 humpback whales, many roughly 50 feet long and weighing 40 tons, has been roaming a little more than a mile off Moss Landing in Monterey Bay in the past week.

As the big whales put on a show — rising to the surface to fin slap, tail lob and lunge feed — they were close enough to see from shore for free at the north jetty.

The humpbacks emerged alongside expert paddlers in kayaks, as if to say hello, and at times swam right under the small boats. The location is also an easy trip for the big commercial whale-watching vessels, of course.

A whale fluke -- 15 feet wide -- so powerful, they create a vortex in the water. Humpback whales have swum as a close as a mile from this past week shore at Moss Landing in Monterey Bay Photo: Giancarlo Thomae

 Photo: Giancarlo Thomae

A whale fluke — 15 feet wide — so powerful, they create a vortex in the water. Humpback whales have swum as a close as a mile from this past week shore at Moss Landing in Monterey Bay

It also happened at the same time last year. And like last year, as long as acres of juvenile anchovies remain in the area, the whales will continue to feast within close range through August and September.

The event has put Moss Landing on the map as the No. 1 whale-watching site on the Pacific Coast as news of these near-shore sightings has gained attention around the world.

“It was so warm, so calm, it felt like I woke up on a beach in Hawaii,” said Giancarlo Thomae, a Chronicle field scout who is also a marine biologist and captain at Elkhorn Slough Safari out of Moss Landing. “The ocean and sky were like a perfect mirror, and there were 15 whales out front. I paddled out, and at one point, a 50-foot humpback rose up right next to me and then swam right under my kayak.” Thomae’s photos of whales and great white sharks in the past month have been published across America.

Last year to the week, I paddled with Thomae out of Moss Landing into Monterey Bay and the edge of the Submarine Canyon. We had humpbacks emerge within 20 yards of us and in a few hours, had dozens of sightings. This is one of the most electrifying low-cost adventures I’ve ever had.

Just like last year, acres of juvenile anchovies have arrived at inshore areas along the edge of the Submarine Canyon. There are so many fish that the clear water can sparkle in silvers beneath your boat.

The Submarine Canyon starts 100 feet outside the Moss Landing harbor. Just a mile offshore, it plunges to 800 feet deep and, within a few miles, to 1,400 feet. Breezes out of the west push plankton and other feed against the canyon walls, where the feed is then thrust near the surface. That creates feeding grounds where humpbacks and other marine mammals and shorebirds can put on spectacular shows in calm, easy-to-reach near-shore waters.

Over the years, I have paddled here several times. When the juvenile anchovies arrive en masse, we’ve seen 50 harbor seals, 100 sea lions, a dozen sea otters, 50,000 terns and literally miles of shearwaters in an hour or two — along with dozens of whales, some of which have surfaced alongside. Once I was looking to the left at a giant whale tail that jutted up from the surface, when another, just off to my right, arose and showered water on me from his blowhole.

This past week, the ocean was again as calm as a mill pond. Rays of light filtered through high clouds from monsoonal flow looked something like a scene out of “The Ten Commandments.” The whales started spouting a little more than a mile from the harbor entrance. Kayaks hit the water.

An estimated 15 humpbacks swirled, played, dived and surfaced.

“What they’re doing is taking turns diving down and feeding for 10 minutes,” Thomae said. “Then they’re coming up to exhale and get a breath, visit a bit and then go down again for more food.”

I’m a believer that the whales communicate, and in turn, when they find bait fish in abundance, will call other whales to the site to feed. If so, more humpbacks will be arriving there from across the sea in the coming weeks.

A whale approaches and begins dive directly under kayak of photographer Photo: Giancarlo Thomae

Photo: Giancarlo Thomae

A whale approaches and begins dive directly under kayak of photographer

The water is warm. It is full of food, full of whales. This has been one of the strangest years on record for dislocated wildlife from southern waters, and amid that, here is a rare chance to see these friendly creatures — most as big as a school bus — frolic, feed and even pirouette in the air at close range.

Until just three years ago, it hadn’t happened inshore like this. Could it be the start of a new era for Moss Landing and Monterey Bay with an arrival every August?

Or is this a golden age to be appreciated here and now, and nobody can say for sure when we’ll see the likes of it again.

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Jul 22 2015

Monterey Bay’s latest trick: turning turquoise

The water in the Monterey Bay, including off Marina State Beach, has been a turquoise color in the past few days because of the presence of coccolithophores, a single-celled phytoplankton that develops scales that reflect the sun. (Vern Fisher – Monterey Herald)

Monterey >> Our corner of the sea is turning a brighter shade of blue.

An odd and little-understood ocean phenomenon is taking place on Monterey Bay right now, and you may have noticed it: the waters are turning an almost tropical turquoise color. Derived from an abundance of a harmless microorganism, the colorful blooms are usually found in the open sea.

But Monterey Bay’s is the second bloom along the California coast in a month. It is due to the presence of coccolithophores, a single-celled phytoplankton that develops hubcap-shaped limestone scales that reflect the sun, turning the water pastel colored.

“The optics of the water when one gets coccolithophores blooms, it looks like this,” said Debora Iglesias-Rodriguez, a biological oceanographer with UC Santa Barbara, noting how odd it is to see a bloom along the shore. “This is really unusual.”

The organisms shed their scales in the water, with the phenomenon usually occurring in northern seas. When you have billions of them, they can impact huge stretches of the open sea, a visual that can be bizarre and stunning in its intensity.

“The blooms are so bright you have to wear sunglasses,” Iglesias-Rodriguez said.

In fact, coccolithophores are responsible for something most people are familiar with: the White Cliffs of Dover, along the English Channel. The striking white cliff faces were created from sediment filled with the organism’s discarded scales.

The first bloom showed up last month in the Santa Barbara Channel. Iglesias-Rodriguez said she is researching why it happened there, including whether the recent oil spill is a factor.

But late last week, it started showing up in Monterey Bay. Satellite data shows the waters from Point Pinos in the south to Natural Bridges State Beach in the north colored a vibrant hue.

Iglesias-Rodriguez is in touch with colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in the hopes of comparing water samples. She said she can only find one unofficial record of the phenomenon occurring off Santa Barbara, dating to the 1990s.

“We are trying to figure out: Why now?” she said.

Coccolithophores seem to thrive when other phytoplankton cannot, particularly when marine phosphorous levels are low. They typically bloom in early summer.

“This would be the right time for them,” Iglesias-Rodriguez said.

This image from Saturday was created using data from NASA’s AQUA satellite, with help from biological oceanographer John Ryan at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. The turquoise water is created by the presence of a microorganism. (Courtesy MBARI)

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Mar 9 2015

Whale of a time being had on Monterey Bay

By Tom Stienstra |

628x471A humpback whale, spending the winter in Monterey Bay, breaches just a short distance from the shoreline.
Photo: Giancarlo Thomae/Sanctuary Cruis / Giancarlo Thomae/Sanctuary Cruis

Outside the mouth of the harbor at Moss Landing, a scene unfolded Thursday morning that was like nothing seen in the past 200 years there in late winter: as many as 30 humpback whales spouting, lunge-feeding and breaching.

The show just a half mile out was easy to see from the jetty.

A vast swarm of anchovies dimpled the water. Pelicans dived to scoop up the small fish. Dolphins were also feeding and jumping like hurdlers in a track meet. A gray whale emerged alongside.

“It’s unheard of,” said Dorris Welch, a marine biologist for Sanctuary Cruises. “Our historical records come from whaling ships that go back to the late 1700s. Going back more than 200 years, no whale records exist that show humpbacks wintering in Monterey Bay.

“In my entire life here, working on the bay, to see this now is a phenomenon.”

It felt like Hawaii. At 10 a.m., the air temperature was already 70 degrees, with an azure sky and calm seas extending across Monterey Bay. From a kayak or boat, with 15 to 20 feet of clarity, you could look down into the water and watch murres and dolphins feed on anchovies, and see the sun reflect off the sides of the whales.

The water was warm, too, for March — 60 degrees as the old sea continues its El Niño trend.

“From the jetty at the mouth of the harbor, you can stand and watch what hasn’t been seen this time of year in recorded history,” said Giancarlo Thomae, a marine biologist and photographer with Sanctuary Cruises. “A lot of days have been flat calm for kayaking and taking photos. A lot of us can’t believe what we’re seeing.”

As with most wildlife, a key is food. Huge numbers of anchovies, with acres of “pinheads,” or juvenile anchovies, have drawn the whales and marine birds to inshore waters.

This is a prime site because of the contours of the sea bottom. The Monterey Submarine Canyon narrows and rises from 1,400 feet a few miles offshore to 800 feet deep within a mile, and then to 100 feet at the harbor entrance. Breezes push nutrient-rich seawater into the canyon and toward land, and as the canyon narrows and rises up, the nutrients are pushed to the surface. It’s the trigger point for one of the richest marine food chains on the Pacific Coast.

Yet even in the days of Cannery Row in Monterey, with some of the largest sardine populations in the world, the events of the past two months never occurred.

One reason is the resurgence of humpback whales, once decimated by whaling. “Populations were estimated as low as 1,200 animals in the entire North Pacific,” Welch said. “Now we think there are close to 20,000.”

The other shift is the amount of food and pristine water quality.

“We think the humpback whales are staying here to replenish and store up fat, to keep feeding,” she said. “There are also immature humpback whales that aren’t ready to breed. They stay instead of migrating south to the breeding and calving grounds in Mexico. It’s part of a phenomenon.”

Last week, a migrating gray whale was also seen joining a pod of six humpbacks in a feeding frenzy, right outside the Moss Landing Harbor entrance.

“It went on for more than an hour,” Welch said. “I’ve never seen that before, a gray whale and humpbacks feeding together, and I can’t find records of that ever happening.”

Another anomaly involves large numbers of long-beaked common dolphins feeding with the whales.

“It’s very unusual to see the dolphins feeding right alongside the whales for long durations,” Welch said. “We had more common dolphins here this winter than we’ve seen in Monterey Bay in the past five years.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be Monterey Bay and Moss Landing without sea otters, many of which are feeding in the channel at the mouth of the harbor. They love eating clams, crabs and fat innkeeper worms. The latest counts showed 144 resident otters at Moss Landing channel and harbor and adjoining Elkhorn Slough.

The anticipation is that female gray whales with calves will arrive in Monterey Bay in April. In turn, orcas, or killer whales, will follow them and provide a once-a-year spring spectacle. The orcas often try to separate juvenile gray whales from their mothers, and then attack and eat them.

For now, you can see much of the action from Moss Landing jetty — bringing binoculars is recommended but not necessary to see the good stuff. On calm days, experts can kayak outside the harbor. Newcomers can rent a kayak and watch from the mouth of the harbor. Whale-watching trips are also available out of Moss Landing and other harbors on Monterey Bay.

In a powerboat or kayak, if you find whales that suddenly emerge in your vicinity, just float, or go into neutral, and enjoy the show. Do not approach closer than 100 yards or do anything that changes their behavior.

On one trip, I was paddling toward some spouts several miles away when a superpod of dolphins started vaulting on my right. A moment later, three humpbacks emerged on my left, so close I could smell their breath from their blowholes. Thousands of pinhead anchovies were suddenly all around me. I took my paddle out of the water and found myself floating amid the scene, euphoric to be so lucky to be alive on this planet.

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Sep 1 2014

Monterey Bay – Squid Fishing – Thank You

Source: Monterey Harbor Update September 2014 –

The 2014 squid catch was an event of a life time! This years squid catch challenged the memory of local fisherman elders. They had a difficult time remembering a better year for the squid fishery going back to the 1960’s. This year more than 1500 jobs were created for local companies during this season. This years catch and subsequent use of the pumping and landing facilities along with the associated track trailers challenged the users of the commercial wharf with parking, transportation, and access. The businesses, fisherman, boaters, and the public worked within a defined amount of space. The limitations of commercial wharf II was challenged to try and be all things to all users on wharf II this year. We wanted to let you know how much we appreciate the wharf II users being patient throughout this busy 2014 season.

Thank you.


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