Animals & Plants on the California Coast

By Skip Davis; Updated April 24, 2017
The California coastline at Big Sur, CA

All regions of the California coastline offer shelter to a variety of wildlife and plant species. Much of California's coastal region is protected by the U.S. and California state governments to ensure the survival of these species. Tourists do have access to these recreation areas, though. California's coast has parkways and hiking trails that offer tourists opportunities to see this region's animals and plants.


Humpback whale

The California coastline is home to blue whales, the largest animals in the world. These marine mammals grow up to 108 feet in length when they mature — or as the Seattle Times put it, "they can be as long as three school buses and weigh more than 300,000 pounds." As of 2011, blue whales are listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List. The scientific name for blue whales is Balaenoptera musculus.

During the summer and fall, humpback whales migrate past the California coast. Humpback whales, or Megaptera novaeangliae, are dark-skinned mammals and grow up to 55 feet in length. These whales can be identified by the hump on their backside. According to the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, humpback whales are known to have friendly encounters with boats.

Marine Plants

Kelp forest off the coase of Catalina Island

California has two species of eelgrass in its saltwater areas: Pacific eelgrass, or Zostera marina, and dwarf eelgrass, or Zostera japonica. These slender marine grasses are primarily found in sheltered bays and estuaries. The Pacific eelgrass is native to California, but dwarf eelgrass is originally from Asia. The latter of the two has become an invasive species, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.

Giant kelp, or Macrocystis pyrifera, is found near the shores of Northern, Central and Southern California. This species of marine plant grows as long as 200 feet when it matures. Needing warmer temperature, giant kelp usually does not stray further than 120 feet from the mainland.

Coastline Animals

California sea lions off the coast

Northern elephant seals, or Mirounga angustirostris, spend most of the year in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. However, these mammals dwell on the coast of Central California during December through March, which is the mating, molting and birthing season. Male elephant seals grow to 14 feet. Before molting, elephant seals have blackened skins, but molting reveals their flesh to have a silver coloration.

The California gull, or Larus californicus, is a medium-sized gull bird with an average length of 17 inches and wingspan of 52 inches. This bird frequents the Californian coastline during the winter, but the San Francisco Bay Area is the only region where coastal nesting occurs. California gulls are nonviolent in the presence of humans, but prey on small mammals and invertebrates.

Coastal Flowers

Beach morning glories on the beach

Beach morning glories, or Ipomoea pescaprae, are found on beaches throughout California, including Southern California's Silver Strand State Beach. These beach flowers have pinkish and white petals and their leaves have a fleshy texture. Late spring and early summer is the blossoming period for beach morning glories.

The Central and Southern Californian coastline features yellow bush lupines or a flowering shrub with yellow petals. This shrub grows up to 6 feet in height. Yellow bush lupines are also in Northern California, but are an invasive species in that region.

About the Author

Skip Davis has been writing professionally since 2005. His work has appeared in "Southern Literary Magazine," on various websites and in graphic panels at the Jackson Zoological Park in Jackson, Miss. Currently living in Southern California, Davis received his Bachelor of Arts in theater at Belhaven College.