14 humpbacks feeding near the surface!

Bob Perrywhale watching californiaLeave a Comment

An explosion of northern anchovies bursts up from the ocean surface as hungry humpback whales attack in the Santa Barbara Channel. © Bob Perry

2021 03-30 SB CHANNEL

Dave and his crew ran two public whale watching excursions today, the morning trip departed at 9a and then there was the nooner. Seas had a residual moderate bump from overnight winds, but skies ranged from hazy sun in the early morning to bright blue clear skies thereafter. Sightings included 14 humpback whales, 40+ California sea lions, and countless hungry predatory seabirds.

In addition to the nice sun and good above water visibility hinted at above, the surface waters were fairly clean. Lots of action took place just beneath the surface today and it was greatly enhanced by all the clarity everywhere. Both trips featured wonderful, feeding, full-grown adult humpback whales. Lucky for us there were ample huge schools of northern anchovies at the top of the water column. Although no true surface lunge feeding took place next to the boat, several huge bursts of panic stricken fish erupted out of the water due to actively feeding whales coming up from below. This was full on NatGeo stuff.

These feeding hotspots were easy to locate because thousands of voracious seabirds were constantly attacking the schools of bait and “sent up a flag” for us to be able to follow the action.  Likewise bands of marauding California sea lions would dive on the same prey, but did not quite have the same breath-holding capabilities of the whales. These pinnipeds rested on the surface between dives and generally provided another “marker” for whale watching.

On the noon trip an interesting behavior was noted which Dave dubbed “jowling.”  I’ve seen it a few times and it my anthropomorphic brain imagined a whale gargling to clean the dead fish and scales from its baleen. A whale on the surface appears to remain fairly stationary while “chomping” at the water. Many, perhaps even Dave, might interpret this as yet another wonderful feeding strategy employed by humpbacks.

You never know what Mother Nature has in store.
Bob Perry
Condor Express, and
CondorExpressPhotos.com

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