Whale Shark Rhincodon typus Smith, 1828 in Monterey Bay CA?

Whale Shark Rhincodon typus Smith, 1828

Whale Shark Bibliography

Policy and research scoping study (September 2000) by Sarah L. Fowler Nature Conservation Bureau, UK.

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Ebert, D.A., H.F. Mollet, A. Baldridge, T. Thomas, K. Forney, and W.E. Ripley. (2004). Occurrence of the whale shark, Rhincodon typus Smith 1828, in California waters. Northwestern Naturalist 85, 26-28. (download pdf)


Coming soon. Whale sharks off Central California, beginning to look credible based on info by Karin Forney NMFS ("sightings off Big Sur and Santa Cruz must have occurred during flights on September 6-8, 1989"), Bill Ripley CaF&G ret. ("touched one in Santa Barbara Channel in 1942/3") and Tom Dohl ("possible sighting off Patricks's Point, Humbolt County, CA).

Karin Forney pers. comm. to Dave Ebert; Bill Ripley pers. comm. to Tim Thomas; Tom Dohl pers. comm. to Alan Baldrige.


Eckert, S. A. and Stewart B. S. (2001). Telemetry and satellite tracking of whale shark, Rincodon typus, in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, and the north Pacific Ocean. Environmental Biology of Fishes 60, 299 -308.

I'm quoting from Synopsis: "The sharks generally occupied areas where sea surface water temperature were between 28 and 32 C, though several ranged to depths of 240 m where water temperature reached 10 C or colder". (my emphasis in bold)

Wolfson, F. H. 1986. Ocurrences of the whale shark Rincodon typus Smith. Proceedings of the Second Internatioal Coference on Indo-Pacifd Fishes, edited by T. Uyeno, R. Arai, T. Taniuchi and K. Matsurrra, 1986, pp. 208 -226. Ichthyological Society of Japan, Tokyo.

p. 212: From the figures presented here, the range of Rincodon typus lies between 30o N and 35 o S, with extremes at 41o and 36.5., respectively. (41o N record is being checked)
p.211: Whale sharks inhabit all of the world's warm temperate seas, except the Mediterranean. Gudger (1927a) perpetuated the single northease Atlantic sighting, reported by Bennett (1834) near the Azores at 44o 55' N, 25o 10' W in 1831, although he believed it to be a misidentfication; it is neither tabulated nor charted here.

WhaleShark02.jpg Email from Alan Baldridge, HMS librarian, ret. (4 March 2001):

1. Richard Ternullo indicated to me that he had never himself seen or heard of sightings in the Monterey Bay Region over the last approx. 20 years.

2. I guessed that a good source might be the unpublished results of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) overflights surveying marine mammals off the California coast between 1972 and 1984. I had a long conversation with Tom Dohl of Aptos who was a leader in these surveys. He remembered 5 sightings of single, apparently adult sized individuals during those years. 4 were in California and 1 off Scammon's Lagoon, Baja California. Starting from the south the California animals were - outside San Clemente Island; just south of Point Conception; north of Vandenberg Airforce Base off Santa Maria; and (most surprising of all) off Patrick's Point, Humboldt Co. All 5 sightings were on the shelf and not off shore in deep water. Please note that these records were unpublished and may be difficult, if not impossible, to retrieve. Tom will search his records for additional details.


Email from Dave Ebert to Gary Sharp summarising observations of whale sharks in Montery Bay:

Dear Gary,

I wanted to follow up with you as to whether you may have some idea as to what oceanic conditions may have prevailed during the times that whale sharks were observed in this area. From what I could determine none of these occurrences were during El Nino events, but other warm water events may have prevailed ? From what I know whale sharks will often feed in mixing areas of warm and cool water where nutrients rich in their preferred prey species may occur. Here's what I have for a summary on whale shark sightings off California.

1. A whale shark observed off Torrey Pines, CA that was reported in Miller and Lea 1972. This to my knowledge is the only verified report that has been published. John Fitch reported on a couple of occurrences in northern Baja which were considered at the time to be a northernly range extension.

2. Records from Julie Phillips: A. One occurrence of whale sharks was reported by Herman Korf. in Aug. or Sept. of 1929. B. Second occurrence was reported by Henry J. Leppert sometime between 1928 and 1930 in the fall months. C. Herman Korf in the fall of 1944 saw similar specimens to what he had seen in 1929. He noted that the tail was vertical not horizontal as in basking shark. Julie also noted that Monterey Bay is several hundred miles north of the previously reported range of the whale shark, but the time of year, i.e. the fall is when the water is warmest in Monterey Bay and the southern California current closest to shore.

3. Bill Ripley made an observation in 1942 or 1943 about 0.5 to 1.0 miles off Carpinteria near Santa Barbara. This was never published that I am aware. Bill was able to come right up to it and pet it.

4. Karin Forney has observed them in the past from off Big Sur and near Santa Cruz while conducting marine mammal surveys in September 1989. At least 3 were seen off Santa Cruz.

While whale sharks coming up as far as Monterey Bay would have seemed unlikely in the past, information that Leonard Compagno has been collecting from off South Africa apparently has shown them to occur fairly far up the west coast and overlap the basking shark's distribution. The west coast of SA as you know is fairly cold, similar to water temperatures in central California. Given that they occur in similar cool temperate waters off SA it might not be as far fetched that they travel up the coast here in California. It may be people just haven't been keeping records ?

This summarizes the various sightings that several of us have been discussing over the past couple of months. Its interesting stuff and surprising that no one has bothered note their occurrence in this area until now. It makes one wonder what else is going on (lots of stuff) that folks are not reporting. If you have any thoughts as to what oceanic conditions may have prevailed I would be interested in hearing about it. Thanks ! Best wishes, Dave


10 Sep 2004 email from Don Keene

Greetings, Dr. Mollet

I was browsing through some information looking for an old friend, Tom Dohl, when I ran across your web site regarding whale shark sightings in Monterey Bay.

I worked for the U.S. Navy as a civilian between 1966-1969. As part of my work, I made several short excursions into Monterey Bay each week. We basically headed west-northwest from Monterey, out to the shelf (maybe 6-8 miles) then returned. We took lots of termp, sal, DO and of course, BT's. During one of those excursions, we encountered a whale shark. In fact, we almost floated into it as we were pulling sample bottles up. Most likely we were either just over the canyon, or a bit to the south.

Unfortunately, I don't recall the exact date, let alone the location. I doubt whether anyone even made a note of it on the records. What I do remember is that the water was green and we were pretty far out that day. Why do I remember the water was green? Because as the waves rolled over the shark's back, the spots alternated from nearly white to green. It was moving very slowly so we all had lots of time to oooh and ahhh over it. Quite a sight. In fact, I think that's the only whale shark I've ever seen!

Of course, if I were a whale shark, I would be in green water too, feeding on the abundant plankton that accompanied that green water.

Not that this observation is of great help, but you can be sure that at least one whale shark ventured into Monterey Bay proper.
Cheers, Don Keene

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Created October 2000, revised September 2004. Back to home page.
Please send comments or corrections to henry@elasmollet.org