At monthly intervals from February 1980 through December 1986, a 14.5-km section of central California coastline was systematically surveyed for beach-cast carcasses of marine birds and mammals. Five hundred and fifty-four bird carcasses and 194 marine mammal carcasses were found. Common murres, western grebes, and Brandt's cormorants composed 45% of the bird total. California sea lions, sea otters, and harbor seals composed 90% of the mammal total. Several factors appeared to affect patterns of carcass deposition. The El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) of 1982–1983 was the dominant influence in terms of interannual variation in carcass deposition. During this ENSO, 56% of the seabirds and 48% of the marine mammals washed ashore. Patterns of intra-annual variation were species specific and were related to animal migration patterns, reproduction, and seasonal changes in weather. Nearshore currents and winds influenced the general area of carcass deposition, while beach substrate type and local patterns of sand deposition influenced the location of carcass deposition on a smaller spatial scale. Weekly surveys along a 1.1-km section of coastline indicated that 62% of bird carcasses and 41% of mammal carcasses remained on the beach less than 9 days. Cause of death was determined for only 8% of the carcasses. Oiling was the most common indication of cause of death in birds (6%). Neonates composed 8% of all mammal carcasses.