A humpback whale kelping episode was one of the high points of today's excursion.

Veggie-loving humpback attacks kelp, and more.

2017 10-06 SB Channel

It was a sultry day in the Santa Barbara Channel with no wind and a mill pond glassy ocean surface. Among the 8 or 10 humpback whales near the boat today Captain Dave and his crew put the Condor Express in position to closely watch 4 of them and at least 2000 long-beaked common dolphins, and several dozen California sea lions. The marine forecast has been the same all week and should continue through the weekend. Bring your sunscreen and re-apply.

About an hour after we left Santa Barbara Harbor, heading southwest towards the west end of Santa Cruz Island, a small hot spot was located. This hot spot was centered around a small, but concentrated, ball of northern anchovies and had a few hundred dolphins feeding on it. The water was clear and blue. At one point the bait ball hid under the boat.

30 minutes later we found our first humpback whale in the middle of about 1000 dolphins. It was a large whale and had long down times. None of the whales showed much of their tail flukes today, I assume this is because the bait was shallow and there was no need to kick tail flukes up high.

15 minutes later we found another two whales. After a short while the pair separated and the large one we stayed with spent the next half-hour locating small patches of drifting, detached giant kelp. The whale was intent on kelping. With no big kelp paddies in the immediate area, it was content to use smaller bunches. One of the first kelp bunches the whale tore apart had been “occupied” by two California sea lions. (Sea lions frequently raft in or near kelp paddies). The furry little mammals soon had to abandon their seaweed refuge and watch the larger mammal go to work on it.

This kelping beast was also extremely vocal. It trumpeted many times. One vocalization set a personal record for us listeners on the crew. It was a prolonged trumpet blow which then segued into an equally loud growl and went on for a very long time. During the growl segment, you could hear the air echoing down the wind pipe.

Next up on the agenda: Dave took us on one of his masterful narrated tours of the northwestern sea cliffs of Santa Cruz Island and put the boat into the antechamber of the world famous Painted Cave. I don’t recall the last time I’ve seen the sea surface at the entrance so flat and glassy. It was a great cave experience for all, even us “old timers.”

On the way home we stopped for a few minutes to watch another humpback whale enjoying the kelp. We were now several miles east of the morning kelping episode. Was this the same veggie-shredding whale we watched earlier? Nobody could tell as “both” whales were about the same size and had no outstanding distinguishing features.

You never know what Mother Nature has in store.
Bob Perry
Condor Express

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