2016 04-01 SB Channel
All three excursions into the Santa Barbara Channel were highly successful in part due to the warm skies and excellent sea conditions. But it was also in part to the presence of so many kinds of marine mammals in our region and the ability of Captain Dave and his crew to find them. One secret used by the crew is the old fisherman’s axiom: “When the fish are up (on the surface), the birds are up (flying and diving). When the fish are down (not on the surface), the birds are down (sitting on the water).” Here are the details for each excursion:
Right away Auggie spotted a small group of 15 long-beaked common dolphins that were fairly friendly with the boat. What we did not know was that these would turn out to be the only dolphins for 9am and 12 noon trips. Closer to the oil rigs, about a half mile north of Hillhouse, the first of countless small hot spots had developed and one humpback whale did a sideways, upside down semi-surface lunge or SUDSSL (sudsell), for short. As with all the 9 am and 12 noon hot spots, there were plenty of different predatory sea birds, but no dolphins or sea lions working the northern anchovy bait balls. Birds included Brandt’s cormorants, brown pelicans, various gulls, elegant terns and quite a few common murres. The pelican crash diving was incredible.
Moving a bit south we located two additional humpback whales south of Houchin. Can anyone email me why it was named Houchin? The two tubercle-headed beasts were not together on the surface but swam in circles around the multiple small bait balls that came and went as indicated by the seabirds flying up then sitting back down in regular intervals. As we moved a bit southwest, Dave spotted two large Stellar sea lions swimming together, but when the Condor Express got within visual range, they sounded. A Minke whale or two swam through the inside corridor, and a pair of tight-together gray whales became the last sighting of the morning.
Dave drove directly to more active hot spots north of Henry where we located three humpback whales. One of the trio swam around the area and passed very close to the Condor as if the beast was taking a good look at its fan club on board. For the next hour or more we watched the trio split up and go from one hotspot to another and back again. Two more Minke whales came by too, a large one and a much smaller one.
The afternoon excursion was very similar but with 4 humpback whales working the many hot spots. The whales would come together, then split 3 + 1, then form pairs, all around the northern anchovy bait balls. A few lunges were seen very close to the surface and the same cadre of sea birds continued to gorge themselves on the little silvery fish. Pelican crash diving continues. On the way back to the harbor at least 50 Pacific white-sided dolphins came over to play. What a day !
You never know what Mother Nature has in store.
PS That SUDSSL stuff was just satire.