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Climate History: Exploring Climate Events and Human Development
Annual Cycle
Map showing flyway of white-rumped Sandpiper
While many of our ancestors migrated with the seasons, most human beings today have adapted to seasonal variability by changing their wardrobe and augmenting their shelter. But, flora and fauna respond in different ways to the climatic fluctuations of the seasons.

Annual cycles drive many patterns of plant and animal behavior. For example, the migration of the White-Rumped Sandpiper from the North Atlantic seaboard in the Northern Hemisphere to the tip of South America and back again. (Visit the Western Atlantic Shorebird website to view maps of other migrating shorebirds).

Many marine mammals follow an annual migration that may include mating and birthing cycles. See the observed sightings from NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries (NMS) that are listed by months below.


  • When northern Pacific ocean temperatures are at their coldest, Gray Whales begin their migration south to Baja, California through February. 
  • Winter gull migrations begin. This month is also the peak of the southern migration of gray whales, Gulf of the Farallones NMS off the coast of San Francisco, California.

  • Hammerhead sharks school around the East and West Flower Garden Banks, until early April off the Gulf Coast of Texas.

  • In the Atlantic, Northern Right Whales return to Cape Cod Bay and to the southern end of the Stellwagen Bank NMS to feed on early bloom of copepods in mid January.

  • Female Northern Right Whales calve off the coast of Georgia and North Florida, Gray's Reef NMS.


  • Grey Whales annual migration north to Alaska begins from around Baja California and continues through May.

  • Clam digging season commences and peak Elephant Seal pupping and mating season, Gulf of the Farallones NMS, California.

  • Elephant seal pupping season at Ano Nuevo and Point Piedras Balanca beaches in Monterey Bay NMS.

Image of seals from NOAAMARCH

  • Harbor Seal pupping season. Peak of the northern Gray Whale migration.   Cow-calf pairs can be seen near shore through July, Gulf of the Farallones NMS and Monterey Bay NMS, California.


  • As Atlantic waters warm, Humpback Whales return to the Stellwagen Bank NMS off the coast of Boston from the Caribbean, including the Silver Bank Humpback Whale Sanctuary in the Dominican Republic. The Humpbacks feed on large numbers of sand lance that congregate on Stellwagen Bank.

  • In the Pacific, Humpback Whales leave the warm waters of the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale NMS for their summer feeding grounds in Alaska.


  • Humpback Whales sighted in the Channel Islands NMS off the coast of Santa Barbara, California through August.


  • Blue Whales and Minke Whales arrive in the Channel Islands NMS to feed from the nutrient rich upwellings, remaining through September.

  • Sea lion pupping season, through July on San Miguel Island in Channel Island NMS, California.

Image of breaching whaleAUGUST

  • Jellies of all kinds are abundant in California's coastal waters as the oceanic season begins and upwelling winds start to calm through early November in the Gulf of the Farallones, Cordell Bank, and Monterey Bay NMS.

  • Humpback Whales court and calve in Fagatele Bay NMS in American Samoa- August through October.

  • Blue and Humpback Whales return from Mexico and Hawaii to their summer feeding grounds at Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank NMSs, California. Through October.

  • Common Murre chicks have fledged and are following their dads around the sanctuary learning how to catch food. Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank NMSs, California, through September.

  • White shark season at the Farallon Islands as Elephant Seals start to concentrate at haul out sites through November in Gulf of the Farallones NMS, California.

  • Pacific Salmon start their spawning migration up the Sacramento River system in California through September in Northern Monterey Bay and Gulf of the Farallones NMSs.

Image of coral gametesSEPTEMBER

  • Annual coral spawning cruise in the Flower Garden Banks NMS off the Texas Gulf coast. Each year 8 nights after the full moon in August between the hours of 8-9 pm, several species of coral release their gametes, causing an underwater snowstorm. Recreational divers first discovered and reported this phenomenon in the Atlantic corals within the sanctuary in 1990.


  • Rising of the palolo, a marine worm which ejects its motile gametophores approximately one week after the full October moon in Fagatele Bay NMS in American Samoa.


  • As northern Pacific waters chill, Humpback Whales begin arriving in Hawaii for birthing and mating. (Past sightings of a singular mother/calf pod have occurred in October)

  • The last month of peak White Shark sightings in the South Farallon Islands, Gulf of the Farallones NMS, off the coast of San Francisco, CA


  • Elephant Seal pupping season on San Miguel Island in the Channel Islands NMS off the coast of Santa Barbara, California.

  • Grey Whales begin their southern migration through Gulf of the Farallones NMS and northern portion of Monterey Bay NMS, California.

  • Northern Right Whale calve off the Georgia and Northern Florida Coasts.

  • Herring begins to spawn in San Francisco and Tomales Bays, Gulf of the Farallones NMS, California.

  • Elephant Seal pupping season in the Gulf of the Farallones NMS, California through March. Also, Northern Fur Seals migrate and concentrate offshore, approximately 1 Fur Seal per square kilometer.

  • Image of water fowl from NOAAWinter water fowl migrate southward. 100,000's of ducks and geese rest and feed in the lagoons and estuaries in the Gulf of the Farallones NMS and northern portion of the Monterey Bay NMS.

From NOS News and Events



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