Humpback Whales in Monterey Bay


Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) breaching out of the water to land on its back with a splash in the Monterey Bay in California.

Last month in October, I joined Alyce Bender of A. Bender Photography for a one-on-one photo adventure photographing marine mammals in the Monterey Bay in California. Marine mammals have always been on my list to photograph. So, I was glad that I finally got a chance to photograph and observe the variety of species of marine mammals in the Monterey Bay. In this post, I will share my experience with Bender (as she prefers to be called) photographing humpback whales.

Alyce Bender arranged for a whale watching tour on our first day together photographing. This was such an awesome experience as we saw a lot of humpback whales in the Monterey Bay. The whales were showing us a lot of different behaviors such as tail fluke up dive, pectoral slapping, and breaching. We spent about four hours in the Monterey Bay and saw at least 50 humpback whales in that time period as they were migrating south to the warms waters off of Mexico for their breeding season. From December to April, the humpback whales spend their breeding before migrating back north for the summer. During these migration times, the humpback whales can be seen in the Monterey Bay off the California coast. .

Humpback whale displaying a tail fluke up dive during fall migration in the Monterey Bay off the coast of California.

When the humpback whales display the tail fluke up dive, their tail flukes are out of the water in a upward arch and then slowly rolls under the water after the whale dives. The tail of the humpback whale has two lobes which are called the flukes which help the whales propel through the water by moving up and down. There are no bones in their flukes as the tail is made up of connective tissue.

Humpback whale breaching sideways out of the water on the Monterey Bay during fall migration in Monterey, California.

Another behavior that the humpback whales perform is an action called breaching. This occurs as the humpback whales are leaping out of the water and twisting on to their backs in the air. Then the whale lands on its back into the water with a big splash. It was so cool to see this many times on this whale photography trip out in the Monterey Bay. There is nothing like some fresh air and photographing lots of humpback whales performing many behaviors for you.

The humpback whales have two pectoral fins that get as large as one-third size of the whale. These pectoral fins are used as the whales’ rudders and stabilizers. The pectoral fin may be used in another behavior of “pec slapping”. This behavior is when the whale is on its side and raises their pectoral fins in the air and then allows the fin to fall hitting the water and creating a splash in the water. The female humpback whale uses this display as way of flirting or getting attention of male humpbacks.

Humpback whale surfacing on the water with pectoral fin in air on an autumn late morning in the Monterey Bay in California. This humpback whale is not displaying the pec slapping behavior but only showing its pectoral fin as it was swimming in the waters.

Here are a few interesting facts about the humpback whales:

  • Humpback whales live in all the oceans of the world.
  • They can grow as large as 60 feet long.
  • Humpbacks can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds.
  • These whales have one of the longest migrations of any mammals in the world as they travel up to 5,000 miles each spring and fall between the feeding and breeding grounds.
  • Humpback whales’ bodies are primarily black with different amounts of white on their bellies, pectoral fins and the underside of their flukes.
  • They can live up to 70-90 years.
  • Humpback whales were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act in 1970 and under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
  • Following the ban on commercial whaling, most humpback whales around the world have had their population increase.
  • In the United States, most of the humpback whales were removed from the Endangered Species Act earlier this year in July 2022 as most of the population of humpback whales have recovered.
Lori A Cash photographing the humpback whales of the Monterey Bay in California.

To check out A Bender Photography’s Photo Adventure offerings for 2023, please click here.

Alyce Bender with Lori A Cash on a photo adventure photographing humpback whales in the Monterey Bay in California.

Let’s preserve and conserve our natural world!!!

Thank you for reading my Field Notes Blog, and I hope you will share this post with others.

All the very best,


Copyright © 2022 Lori A Cash Conservation Photography, LLC

2 replies to “Humpback Whales in Monterey Bay

    1. loriacash – Lori A Cash is an award-winning wildlife and nature conservation photographer who has over thirty years experience photographing wildlife, nature and conservation subjects. She, as a photographer, has always had a love for the natural world and hopes that her images will inspire others to appreciate our natural world. Lori resides in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Through her conservation writing and photography, Lori continues to want to inspire and educate others about the beauty of the natural world and to advocate for the protection of wildlife with a special emphasis of the state in which she lives.
      loriacash says:

      Thank you so very much, Katy!!!!

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