Depending on what time you decide to visit Santa Cruz, there are many different species of whale that can be seen in Monterey Bay. December through April, gray whales travel from the icy waters of the Arctic to the warm lagoons of the Baja of California. The Davenport Cliffs are an ideal spot for whale watching or you can take a guided boat trip to get an even closer look. April through November, Monterey Bay becomes a feeding ground for multiple whale and dolphin species. Humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, blue whales, and maybe even an orca can be sighted off the coast of Santa Cruz. Not only will you get a good chance to see whales, but you might also get to see large pods of Risso's dolphins, northern right whale dolphins, and Pacific white-sided dolphins, as well as other porpoises, sea otters, and sea birds. If you take a guided boat tour you are almost guaranteed to see at least one of these amazing species, if not more.
While you may see a variety of seals during a whale watching expedition, Ano Nuevo State Reserve is home to the largest breeding ground of northern elephant seals in North America. During the winter, males battle for mates on the beach and females give birth to pups on the dunes. December through March, during the breeding season, park access is available only by guided walks. Most adult seals leave by early March, leaving their weaned pups who remain through April. During the spring and summer months, the seals return to molt and can be viewed during this time through a permit system. The northern elephant seal can be seen here year round, however it is important to make early reservations with the park if you wish to see the seals during their breeding season.
Turn your head to the skies and you will find a plethora of birds. The Pajaro Valley is home to hundreds of waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds. One of California's last undisturbed coastal wetlands, Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Reserve, hosts the annual Monterey Birding Festival in September. Due to the diverse habitats of Santa Cruz, the area is a birders paradise. Hundreds of species of birds can be seen throughout the mountains, in wetlands, and among the sea.
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