Sea Goddess Naturalists

Samantha Mendez

Samantha is the head naturalist for Sea Goddess Whale Watching and received her B.S in marine science from California State University Monterey Bay in 2016. Most of her undergraduate work consisted of underwater ROV analysis and research on the marine protected areas of the Monterey Bay.

Q: What’s the best part about your job? 
A: The best part of my job is being able to share what I’m passionate about with our customers. I never get tired of seeing everyone’s reaction when they see a whale for the first time. It’s one thing to watch a whale on TV or see pictures, but it’s completely different to see these giants right in front of you.

Q: What’s your favorite animal or behavior to see in the water?
A: Humpback whales are by far my favorite! They’re such complicated, intelligent creatures that never cease to surprise us with their different behaviors. Watching a humpback breach takes my breath away every time.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the best time of year to go whale watching in the Monterey Bay?
A: Definitely late May though late August. That’s when we have the highest concentration of Humpbacks along with others like the blue whale, killer whale, fin whale, and multiple dolphin species! From early spring to late summer we experience an upwelling event that creates nutrient rich water which sustains large numbers small schooling fish and krill. This is why we’re such a hot spot for marine mammals! That being said, we can still expect to see humpbacks through early November.

Q: What makes watching trips on the Sea Goddess so unique? 
A: A half mile out from Moss Landing, the Monterey Canyon begins. This canyon extends around 95 miles, and is the largest submarine canyon off of North America’s west coast.

This gives us a huge advantage for whale watching, upwelling occurs along the canyon walls providing tons of food for our whales right in our own backyard!

Also, our boat is built for whale watching, meaning we have plenty of space on either side of the cabin for our customers to move around. So if a whale surfaces on one side of the boat, customers won’t have to miss out on the view because there isn’t enough room.

Q: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about the Monterey Bay? 
A: When I moved here for college, I had no idea we had killer whales (orcas) that came in and out of the bay to feed. I always thought I would have to travel further up north to have any shot at seeing them. It’s been the highlight of my time at Sea Goddess to observe these creatures in the wild!

Natalie Yingling

Natalie is a current graduate student at Moss Landing Marine Lab in the Biological Oceanography Lab. She received her bachelor’s degree from North Carolina State University, majoring in Marine Science with a concentration in Biological Oceanography and a minor in Zoology. Natalie has been with Sea Goddess Whale Watching since May of 2016.

Q: What’s the best part about your job? 
A: I think the best part of my job is being able to teach people about marine science and why it is an important topic of research. I believe that everyone, at some point in their life, needs to experience being on a boat out at sea and seeing these animals in their natural environment.

Actually watching the whales and other marine mammals makes it easy to understand why marine conservation and management are important in our world.

Q: What’s your favorite animal or behavior to see in the water?
A: I think breaching or lunge feeding are the coolest and most exciting parts of whale watching. Both can occur unexpectedly on our trips and are always a real crowd-pleaser!

Q: What do you think is the best time of year to go whale watching in Monterey Bay?
A: I would have to say our summer months are the most active for whale watching. It all originates with the food-chain starting phenomenon known as upwelling that occurs in the late spring and summer. Upwelling in the area fuels biological activity by fertilizing the waters and creating a suitable habitat for various bait such as anchovies, sardines, krill, and squid. This is why Monterey Bay is considered to be a primary feeding ground for various hungry marine mammals and birds!

Q: What makes whale watching trips on the Sea Goddess unique? 
A: Lucky for us, the Sea Goddess departs from the Moss Landing harbor. Moss Landing is located in the heart of Monterey Bay, where less than a football field away lies the beginning of the Monterey Canyon. The Monterey Canyon is the largest submarine canyon on the western coast of North America, giving us access to deep waters near the shore. Thanks to the canyon, we have upwelling that occurs right off Moss Landing meaning we often see whales not far from the harbor.

Q: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about the Monterey Bay?
A: Since Monterey Bay is a National Marine Sanctuary we have an abundant amount of diversity in marine mammals, fishes, turtles, shorebirds and seabirds. Many of these organisms make long and difficult migrations in order to come and feed in Monterey Bay. It’s one of the most productive ocean ecosystems and offers some of the best wildlife viewing in the world.

Tamara Russell

Tammy is completing her B.S in Ecology and Evolution at UC Santa Cruz. At UCSC, she works with northern elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park, and has conducted marine ecology fieldwork in the cold waters of Sitka, Alaska. Although she has experience working with marine mammals, her passion is in seabirds! Since moving to the Monterey Bay, she has working on the seabird colony on Año Nuevo Island and worked with NOAA Fisheries on issues with albatrosses getting incidentally caught by longline fisheries. Her favorite part about being on the water are the surprises you get each day, because everyday is different! Tammy will be working with us over summer before she heads to Scripps Institution of Oceanography to begin her Ph.D. in biological oceanography, where she will focus on how plastics and climate change are impacting ocean ecosystems.

Q: What makes whale watching trips on the Sea Goddess unique?

A: The fact that you can go right out of Moss Landing and quickly be above very deep waters, because of the submarine canyon, means that just offshore we are able to see truly pelagic birds, or birds that live out on the open ocean. This gives whale watchers a unique opportunity to experience a variety of birds that people normally do not get to see, like black-footed and Laysan albatrosses during the summer and northern fulmars and black-legged kittiwakes during the winter! Seeing an albatross in person is a magical sight, with wingspans of around 7 ft wide, they ride the winds between here and their breeding grounds in the Northern Hawaiian Islands. Like most seabirds, they mate with the same bird for life and are long-lived, with the oldest bird recorded (named “Wisdom”) being 66 years old, who just successfully raised another chick!

In addition to the unique birds that we get seasonally, the shear number of birds found in the Bay makes this a biodiversity hotspot, with over 180 species of seabird occurring here! One of my summer favorites are the rhinoceros auklets, which are related to the puffin and have a “horn” on their bill that they use to dig burrows to nest in. There are also a number of shearwater species, the most famous being the sooty shearwater. These birds undertake an incredible migration where millions of sooty’s fly an “8” shape over the Pacific Ocean from the Southern Hemisphere up to the North Pacific, the roundtrip expedition is about 40,000 miles! These birds are also infamous for being the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s film, The Birds, when flocks of these disoriented birds flew into buildings around the Monterey Bay from eating toxic algae!

Jake Cline

I am a lifelong scientist, environmentalist and outdoorsman. I’m currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Applied Marine Science at California State University, Monterey Bay. I like to learn new things, be outside, and make the world just a bit better every day!

Q: What motivated you to become a naturalist?
A:I get great satisfaction from introducing people from all walks of life to the beauty of the ocean. I feel that it is a responsibility of modern scientists to communicate the importance of their work to the public. As a naturalist with Sea Goddess Whale Watching, I am lucky enough to do this every week!

Q: What’s your favorite whale behavior to see in the water? 
A: I love it when whales show curiosity and spend some time around the boat. You can really see their different personalities and their genuine interest now that they have less reason to be fearful of boats. I think we’ve only just scratched the surface of whale intelligence!

Q: What’s the most magnificent thing you’ve ever seen while out a whale watching tour?
A: Being surrounded by a pod of thousands of spotted dolphins was something I’ll never forget! We also once had a very playful juvenile humpback whale stick with the boat for close to two hours.

Q: What makes whale watching trips on the Sea Goddess unique? 
A: Leaving from Moss Landing brings us out over the Monterey Submarine Canyon, a mysterious and productive area that attracts all types of marine life.

To boot, our staff is truly dedicated to the well-being of Monterey Bay and its beautiful creatures.

Q: What’s the number one thing you want guests to take away from a whale watching tour on the Monterey Bay?
A: That no matter where we live, our lives are connected to the sea. It gives us oxygen and food, controls our weather and is full of mystery waiting to be explored.

Sarah Santich

In awe of the ocean from an early age, Sarah always dreamed of learning and discovering more about the ocean’s mysteries. Sarah graduated from California State University, Chico with a BS in ecology, evolution, and organismal biology and plans to get her masters degree in marine biology studying the effects of climate change on endangered marine mammal species. Sarah currently volunteers at The Marine Mammal Center, the Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Long Marine Lab as a part of the Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems laboratory.

Q: What motivated you to become a naturalist?
A: My main motivation to become a naturalist was to educate people about our incredible, unique, and diverse ecosystem here in the Monterey Bay. I hope to inspire people to love and care for the ocean as much as I do, while making the trip fun and exciting, loaded with weird and interesting animal facts!

Q: What’s your favorite whale behavior to see in the water? 
A: My favorite behavior to see in the water is humpback whales breaching! It only takes two beats of their giant tail to launch themselves completely out of the water, letting us see their entire bodies suspended in thin air for a mere second before turning on their backs and creating the most gigantic splash you’ve ever seen.

Q: What’s the most magnificent thing you’ve ever seen while out a whale watching tour?
A: It’s hard to pick just one magnificent event to talk about after all the unbelievable things I’ve had the privilege to witness, but one of my favorites was when a very small humpback (maybe 20 feet long) became very curious with the boat.

The young whale swam up so close to the surface within just a few feet of our port side so we could see it’s entire body glowing under water. The humpback decided to roll over like a puppy and stick its pectoral fins out of the water as it showed off its impressive white belly.

The urge to give a belly rub was strong, but was ultimately suppressed for the sake of the humpback.

Q: What makes whale watching trips on the Sea Goddess unique? 
A: The unique thing about the Sea Goddess is the proximity to all of the action in the bay. Being right at the mouth of the 3rd largest underwater canyon in the world provides a great opportunity to see whales up close while rarely needing to go far out to sea. Seeing the mind blowing abundance and diversity of animals the Monterey Bay has to offer is just a short boat ride away. Our world-class educated and enthusiastic naturalists and deck hands make sure you don’t miss a thing.

Q: What’s the number one thing you want guests to take away from a whale watching tour on the Monterey Bay?
A: The number one thing I hope you take away after a whale watching tour in the Monterey Bay is a sense of wonder and respect for marine ecosystems. I hope you continue to ask questions and learn about what you see or what you are most fascinated with and share your knowledge and enthusiasm with others in your lives.