2017 10-07 SB Channel
While soaring air temperatures in Santa Barbara had everyone talking about the fall heat wave, conditions in the Santa Barbara Channel were ideal. There was plenty of bright sun and warmth, but the sea breeze kept things quite moderate and nice. The ocean surface had a few white caps by the time we got near The Lanes. A fresh breeze like this just makes the whale spouts and dolphin splashes show up better. Today’s sightings included 1 humpback whale, 2000 long-beaked common dolphins and 1000 California sea lions.
Captain Dave and his crew headed southwest for about an hour until a dolphin pod with several hundred individuals located the Condor Express. There were lots of little calves with their mothers in this pod, and some of the calves were tiny and could not have been very old. While we watched the dolphins, the monster splash from a whale breaching a few miles west caught our eye.
The whale was small, had white pectoral fins and had an attitude which was reflected by its frequent trumpet vocalizations. It swam east, then west, then north…you get the idea. It was not down long and was a good whale to watch. After about an hour it got airborne again for a completely random, unexpected breach, this time closer to the Condor. Hundreds more dolphins streamed past the boat and around the whale the whole time we were on station.
Our next stop was Dave’s Famous Tour of the northwestern sea cliffs of Santa Cruz Island, its coves and world-famous Painted Cave. Per usual, his well-honed discourse included the geology, history, paleontology and recent environmental trends. The sea surface was nice in the mouth of the Cave so Dave took us inside. A few pelagic red crabs were seen here and there in the sunlit portions.
The most unusual and dramatic sighting of the excursion took place within a few minutes after leaving the island for the return to Santa Barbara. A fantastic, closely-packed mega-mob of at least 1,000 California sea lions was spotted by second-captain and deck hand Eric. The brown furry mammals were highly animated and had the ocean surface around them all roiled up and reflecting the bright sunlight. As if a secret switch had been flipped, they all dove down at one time. They stayed down for a few minutes until another switch sent them back to the surface where they appeared like one, giant highly-coordinated monster animal. We only see this a few times a year at most.
Later, on the trip home, Dave stopped and we watched another 500 or more dolphins.
You never know what Mother Nature has in store.