Though we’ve already made a Guide to Discovering California’s Magical Wildlife, we figured the summer season is a perfect time to do a deeper dive into some of Morro Bay’s most common marine mammals, ranging from cute and cuddly sea otters to massive blue whales. Don’t forget to check out water adventures you can have on the Bay, and experience the magic of these aquatic ecosystems for yourself. Without further ado, join us in learning more about 6 marine mammals you can spot in Morro Bay.
If you’re strolling along the water in Morro Bay, there’s a good chance you’ll catch a glimpse of a sea otter floating or swimming by! These adorable, charismatic little critters find a tranquil haven in the sheltered waters of the Bay, with abundant kelp forests and a wide selection of prey that keeps them happy and well-fed. Otters are a vital part of the complex coastal ecosystem, helping to control the local sea urchin population and protecting kelp forests from overgrazing.
Sea lions may look cuddly, but don’t let their cute appearance fool you— these creatures are the largest and fastest year-round marine mammals in Morro Bay, weighing up to more than 850 pounds and traveling at speeds as fast as 25 miles per hour! They also have awful table manners, using their sharp, short teeth to catch their prey and swallow them whole. You can usually find sea lions relaxing on harbor docks or even boats, but the City of Morro Bay built a special sea lion-only dock to give them a safe place away from the busy harbor. To find the dock, look to the right of Morro Rock— you’ll see three vertical pilings where sea lions may be resting and playing. Don’t forget to keep an ear out for their distinctive barks!
Morro Bay’s cherished population of harbor seals can often be found basking on sandy shores or lazily floating in calm ocean waters. The area’s protected coves and abundant food sources make it an ideal habitat, and though these graceful and intelligent marine mammals are easily scared away by disturbances, they also have a curious penchant for observing and playing with humans. Often, visitors kayaking or canoeing in the Bay will be greeted by the sight of big brown eyes popping out of the water before vanishing again.
It’s not every day you see the largest animal in the entire world, but when it happens, it’s a humbling experience, an awe-inspiring reminder of nature’s magnitude. We are of course talking about blue whales, the magnificent marine giants who have been known to visit the Bay during their migratory journeys, usually around April. The area’s waters, abundant with krill and small fish, provide a perfect refueling spot for the whales’ long migrations. You’ll know a blue whale by its size (usually a whopping 80-100 feet in length) and sleek, blue-gray colored body.
Embark upon one of Morro Bay’s whale watching tours from May to November and you may just catch a glimpse of a humpback whale breaching, hurling its massive body out of the water before crashing back down into the sea. Humpbacks are smaller than blue whales, usually 50-60 feet in length, dark gray and white in color, and covered in distinctive ridges, bumps, and scars. These graceful marine mammals can also carry a tune! Humpbacks are known for singing some of the most varied, complex “songs” in the entire animal kingdom, some of which go on for more than 30 minutes.
Gray whales are one of the most commonly seen species of whale in Morro Bay! Every year, they make the long trek from the Bering and Chukchi Seas above Alaska, all the way to the warm waters of Baja California, Mexico— one of the longest annual migration paths of any mammal. You can catch them delighting in California’s abundant coastline all year long, but especially during their migrations, usually from December to February when they’re headed south to Mexico, and again from February to April when they go back North to the Arctic.
Well, that’s a wrap on 6 marine mammals you can spot in Morro Bay! Thank you for accompanying us, and for more trip ideas and inspiration, be sure to check out the rest of the Morro Bay blog.