1. Tule Elk
The tule elk sits firmly in first place for one primary reason. In the 19th century, the Californian Department of Wildlife thought they had wiped out the last of this type of elk and marked them as extinct. However, a single pair was found hiding in the tule marshes of Buena Vista Lake in Kern County in 1874. There are now near to 4,000 alive today, all of which descended directly from that pair. Of all California’s endemic wildlife species, tule elk are now are among the most easily seen, with populations all throughout the state. The Tule Elk State Reserve near Tupman in Kern County and Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore in the Bay Area, are the best places to spot them.
Cougars, also known as mountain lions or pumas, are native to California. They are the second largest cat in the New World, after the Jaguar which is found in South America. An adult cougar can grow up to 1.5m (5ft), with a 1-meter-long tail (3ft). Although cougars are found throughout the whole state, Cougars are elusive and secretive animals who hide in their dens in rocky outcroppings, dense thickets and under uprooted trees until night to hunt deer and other wildlife.
3. American Black Bear
The American black bear is a medium-sized bear native to North America. It is the continent’s smallest and most widely distributed bear species. They typically live in the largely forested areas of North America but do leave forests in search of food, sometimes entering human communities because of the immediate availability of food. The coat of a black bear is usually black but it can also be dark brown, cinnamon, yellow-brown, grey-blue and white depending on location. They are an amazing creature to spot in the wild, just don’t get too close!
4. Blue and Humpback Whales
California is a popular place to come and see whales roam free in the Pacific Ocean, as both blue and humpback whales migrate from the warm seas of Baja California where they mate and give birth, to the krill-filled waters of Alaska every year. Blue whales are the largest animals in the world, growing up to 33m (108ft) in length and weighing up to 150 tons. Humpback whales are about half as big, measuring roughly 17m, (55ft) in length. While blue whales can unmistakably be recognized for their size, these whales can be identified by the hump on their backside. Humpback love to get up and personal with boats, and so the chance of seeing them is higher than the chance of seeing the shy blue whales.
Bobcats are a species of small wild cats that are approximately twice the size of a domestic cat and have a similar spotted coat to a cheetah. Bobcats are often confused with cougar cubs in the Santa Monica Mountains area, because of the spotted pattern on the cougar cubs, but once the cubs have grown out of their spots, they look very different and are considerably different in size to the bobcat. People tend to be surprised when they learn that bobcats weigh on average just 7-10 kilograms (15-18lb), and grow no longer than 70cm (28 inches).
6. Elephant Seal
Northern elephant seals spend most of the year in the depths of the Pacific Ocean but come up to the coast of Central California from December through March, which is the mating, molting and birthing season. There are several elephant seal lookout points in California, the Friends Of The Elephant Seal lookout, located about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the Elephant Seal Overlook just north of San Francisco, are two of the best places to go to get the best viewings of the fabulous creature.
The coyote is a member of the dog family and is native to California. Although they are wild animals who live in the woodlands and forests of California, they aren’t scared to come close to urbanization during the night and rummage through your garbage bags. They are known for their high pitched, yodel-like yapping which can travel up to 3 miles, and thus be heard in the cities at night.
8. Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin
Named after their large beaks, which are longer than any other species of dolphins, bottlenose dolphins are the most commonly spotted dolphins in the world. In the Pacific Ocean, bottlenose dolphins are found from northern Japan to Australia and from Southern California to Chile. They are also found offshore in the eastern tropical Pacific as far west as the Hawaiian Islands. About 3000 bottlenose dolphins reside off the California coast, and the best place to spot them is in Monterey Bay. They are year-round inhabitants of Monterey Bay so you can spot them at any time of the year, from almost any beach, but the viewings are far better on a clear day.
9. California Sea Otter
The heaviest members of the weasel family, sea otters are also the second smallest marine mammals. Unlike other marine mammals, they do not have a layer of blubber to help them keep warm. Instead, sea otters have the densest fur in the animal kingdom, ranging from 250,000 to a million hairs per square inch, which insulates them. These sea otters are found along the Pacific Coast of California from San Mateo County southward through Monterey County and down to Santa Barbara County. Just like the bottlenose dolphin mentioned above, the best place to spot them is in Monterey Bay, where they are found floating and foraging among kelp forests along the outer coves and bays and off the sandy beaches.
Opossums are one of California’s most common residents. They are a large, rat-like animal with a huge jaw and beady eyes. Despite being a rather simple-minded animal, opossums are actually a very successful species and have adapted well to the Southern Californian environment. What’s most interesting about opossums, though, is that they are actually a type of marsupial, and are a relative of kangaroos, koalas and Tasmanian devils, all animals which are not found in North America. They may seem cute at first, but disturb them and they will show their teeth, hiss and drool!
California is known for it’s large energetic and exciting cities. However, sometimes it can nice to step outside of the cities and into the outdoors where the stunning nature and wildlife of California lies.