By Audrey Matusich
One of my favorite things about growing up in the South Bay is its proximity to several amazing places. Whether I’m in the mood to go wine tasting in Napa, become a tourist for the day in San Francisco, lounge on the beach in Santa Cruz, or explore the tide pools in Monterey, any of these excursions can be accomplished in a day. As a self-designated “land mermaid,” any trip to the ocean growing up amounted to a perfect day, and one of my favorite places is Monterey.
On my last trip to Monterey, I decided to go on a morning whale watching tour. The sky was clear, the breeze was cool, and my hopes were high to see Casper, a rare all-white Risso’s dolphin that often frequents Monterey Bay. I had been monitoring the whale and dolphin sightings in Monterey for the previous few weeks and had noticed Casper sightings every couple of days. “Today is the day!” I told myself as I kept an eye out. About 15 minutes into our trip, I noticed a white figure emerging from the water to the left of the boat. Sure enough, Casper had decided to make an appearance, exciting everyone on the boat. The name, bestowed on him by Monterey Bay Whale Watch photographer Daniel Bianchetta, was fitting for the cetacean, with his all white body and friendly demeanor.
With a round, bulbous head and a very small rostrum, the Risso’s dolphin looks very different from the popular Bottlenose Dolphin you often see on screen. The Risso’s dolphin is considered a medium sized cetacean, ranging from 8-13 feet long and weighing up to 1,100 pounds. While watching Casper and his pod in Monterey, I noticed that they would stay close to the surface and come up for air frequently for a few minutes before disappearing for a long period of time. Fascinated by these dolphins, I decided to do further research at home and learned that Risso’s dolphins can dive up to 1000 feet and hold their breath as long as 30 minutes when hunting for food. Their diet consists of fish, krill, and cephalopods, but their preference is squid.
The Risso’s dolphin can be found all around the world, inhabiting temperate and subtropical waters. They generally travel in pods of 10 to 30; however scientists have seen both solo individuals and superpods in the hundreds and thousands. During my trip to Monterey, I had the privilege of seeing these delightful creatures swimming in a superpod, interacting with Pacific white-Sided dolphins and Northern right whale dolphins. I was truly in awe as I stood in the front of the boat and saw dolphins breaching in every direction I looked.
If you are an animal lover, aspiring marine biologist, and looking for a day trip, whale watching in Monterey Bay may be calling your name. During the months of April to November, as the weather warms and summer is on the horizon, the biodiversity of cetaceans traveling through the bay increases. And if you are really lucky, you may spot Casper, the friendly, white Risso’s dolphin.
Hagemann, Hannah. Rare white dolphin – ‘Casper’ – spotted days before Halloween in Monterey Bay. The Mercury News. 2021
Risso’s Dolphin. NOAA Fisheries. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/rissos-dolphin