If you love whales, hurry and plan your travel for the 12th annual Whalefest Monterey, coming up on March 19 and 20. People come to Monterey, California from around the world to celebrate cetaceans and get the lowdown from world-renowned marine experts and historians.

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A whale tale emerging from the water.

The free, family-friendly event will take place at Old Fisherman’s Wharf and the Custom House Plaza-Monterey State Historic Park. Participants can view marine-related exhibits, listen to music, learn from whale experts and maybe even see some whales.

To make this year extra special, the event also celebrates NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries’ 50th anniversary of ocean protection. It is also the 30th anniversary of the local Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. 

Furthermore, keynote speakers former Congress Member Sam Farr and former Save Our Shores Director Dan Haifley will kick off Whalefest 2022. After the keynote speech, Lisa Woonick, superintendent of the sanctuary, will speak on 50 years of whale conservation.

Related: After 40 years, blue whales are returning to Spain

“Some great new features of this year’s Whalefest Monterey includes tracing the fascinating cultural fishing history, as well as the recovery and role of the California condors in the Monterey Bay region, among other timely topics,” said Whalefest Monterey Chair Mary Alice Cerrito Fettis.

Two whales in water.

Take a walk on the wharf

Of course, the best thing about Whalefest is whales. This could be your chance to glimpse the whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea otters who frequent the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. People come from all over the world to see marine critters feasting on the bay’s krill and anchovy buffet. Participants will be especially excited to set foot in Monterey after last year’s entertaining but all virtual four-day fest.

Additionally, Fisheries Historian Tim Thomas will conduct two one-hour Wharf Walks both days at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Humans have been fishing the bay for thousands of years, beginning with the Rumsien Ohlone. Chinese fishermen showed up in the 1850s to fish for abalone and pioneer the California squid industry.

Later, whalers from the Azores, abalone divers and salmon fishers from Japan and sardine fishers from Sicily. Thomas is a fourth-generation Monterey native. His books on local history include “Monterey’s Waterfront,” “The Japanese on the Monterey Peninsula” and “The Abalone King of Monterey.”

Catch some whale music at the fest

Whales are known for their distinctive sounds, and so is Whalefest. This year’s music lineup includes keyboard players, a violinist and a mandolin player, among others. Whalefest Music Director Nicholas Fettis will play original music with his “Orca”stra of whale sounds.

Monterey reggae band Jonah and the Whalewatchers has been together for more than 25 years and features a steel pan player. The full lineup is still pending, but more musical guests will be announced any second.

Whalefest Monterey Symposium speakers

The symposium will fill your head with whale facts. On Saturday, March 19, Peggy Stap, executive director of Marine Life Studies, will talk about the whale rescue response of the Whale Entanglement Team and Marine Life Studies’ lost and abandoned fishing gear removal project. Matt Savoca from Hopkins Marine Station at Stanford University will enlighten listeners about Baleen whale prey consumption and its effects on marine ecosystems. Dan Fernandez from California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) will describe coastal fog and how it affects regional ecosystems.

On Sunday, March 20, the Whalefest Symposium opens with a presentation about California condors. Kelly Sorensen, executive director of Ventana Wildlife Society, will talk about the challenges these enormous birds of prey have faced in the wild, and how they’re now powering toward a full recovery.

Next up, Corey Garza from CSUMB will discuss the development of an autonomous aerial drone program. NOAA’s Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems (CCME) created the drone program to help monitor and assess the status of and trends in coastal ecosystems. In the afternoon, a panel of experts will discuss local fishing history. The public will also learn all about the Western Flyer, a famous fishing boat that carried John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts on a 1940 expedition to the Gulf of California.

“We’re really proud of our Whalefest Monterey two-day symposium where each year a dozen or so marine scientists from our local academic and research institutions share their latest research findings with the general public, often right upon publication,” said Whalefest Monterey Director Antoinette Saylor. “Where else can you walk right off the street and learn about anything from preventing whale entanglements to using drones to get timely information on coastal changes to the possible role of coastal fog in climate change?”

A whale emerging from the ocean.

Spend time exploring the Serengeti of the Sea

If you go to Whalefest, be sure to take some time exploring all that the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has to offer. This stretch of 276 central coast miles from San Francisco to Cambria has been called the “Serengeti of the Sea.” You’ll find kelp forests, tide pools, and marine life ranging from shrimp to giant blue whales.

The marine sanctuary has been promoting environmental stewardship and ocean research since its designation in 1992. It’s one of the biggest national marine sanctuaries in the U.S. and covers more territory than Yellowstone National Park. Recreational activities include surfing, boating, kayaking and diving. Or stay close to shore scanning the horizon for whales.

Images via Whalefest and Pexels