Santa Barbara Channel, USA


The Santa Barbara Channel is one of the most biologically productive marine ecosystems found on Earth. This body of water is called a channel because it is found between two landmasses, the southern coast of California and the Northern Channel Islands. Four of the five islands are part of Channel Islands National Park and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The water circulation and upwelling of the channel are complex and highly dynamic, with the mixing of major currents coming from opposite directions and colliding in a transition zone around the northern Channel Islands. This results in rich species diversity, including cetaceans.

The Santa Barbara coast is already an international tourist destination for its natural beauty and rich cultural history, but very few tourists realize that this area is also one of the best places in the world to go whale watching. There are at least five whale watching companies providing perfect ways to enjoy the high diversity of marine mammals found in the Channel.

The most common cetacean species seen on an annual basis are the Blue whale, Fin whale, Humpback whale, Gray whale, Minke whale, Killer whale, Common dolphin: both long-beaked and short-beaked, Bottlenose dolphin: both coastal and offshore, Risso’s dolphin, Pacific white-sided, and 12 other less common species.

Santa Barbara stakeholders are already highly collaborative: whale watching tour operators; naturalists; biologists; fishers; educators; resource managers; artists; and NGO’s, all working together with a mission to engage both local communities and visitors to become better stewards of the ocean and its wildlife, and to heighten the awareness of the abundance and diversity of whales in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Santa Barbara also boasts annual whale festivals, Indigenous cultural connections to dolphins, citizen science programs, environmental and climate education, and an incentive to protect whales from ship strikes.


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Photos credit: Adam Ernster