Natural La Jolla: The surprises of offshore spring wildlife

A gray whale breaches just offshore.
(Jeremy Smith)


Spring is a great time to be near the water and out along the coastline. Besides the abundant sunshine, blooming wildflowers and cool spring breezes with the change in season, there is a shift in the variety of wildlife in our local waters.

Kelly Stewart is a marine biologist with The Ocean Foundation, working with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla. Her column about the flora and fauna of La Jolla appears regularly in La Jolla Light. She may be reached by e-mail:

We are coming to the end of the gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) migration as the whales return to frigid northern waters to feed for the summer. Many of them have traveled past with new calves that were born in the lagoons in Baja, Mexico and we won’t see them again until November, when they return south. But with that season past, there are new surprises out there every day. Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus), the world’s largest creatures, have begun showing up and more will been seen through the summer; they visit the productive waters here to eat krill (a shrimp-like creature).

In the same family as blue whales, humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae) always add to the excitement out on the water. They breach often and have recently been a regular sight among whale watching boats. Humpbacks are popular and easily recognized whales, with their long pectoral fins and knobby heads. They are also known for their complex songs.

In addition, bird enthusiasts are never disappointed with the variety of birds migrating through to their Arctic breeding grounds at this time of year. Many species like the Pacific loon (Gavia pacifica; pictured) spend the majority of the year here and only go north for just a few short months.

— Kelly Stewart is a marine biologist with The Ocean Foundation who writes about the flora and fauna of La Jolla. She may be reached by e-mail:

A spectacular humpback breach.
(Jeremy Smith)
A Pacific loon takes off from the surface of the water.
(Jeremy Smith)