Humpback Whales, Gray Whales, Dolphins and So Much More!
We left the Santa Barbara Harbor entrance buoy and its compliment of 4 California sea lions behind at 1015am heading south. At 1035 we came upon a dinghy/rowboat derelict and drifting in the Santa Barbara Channel. It looked like the painter was completely frayed and the boat had come loose from its mother ship. Captain Dave reported it’s CF numbers to Coast Guard sector LA and later we heard that another boat from the harbor had retrieved it. It is always spooky to see a ghost boat at sea, even if it is a very small one. Not far from the dinghy a friendly Pacific harbor seal was on the surface and watched the Condor Express go by. At 1040am a large mob of California sea lions were actively feeding and had air support from a variety of seabirds. Ten minutes later second captain, Eric Eagle Eyes, had spotted a tall spout which turned out to be Scarlet, our local homeguard humpback #whale. Scarlet was all business today and had long down times, so we continued south. Not long after leaving Scarlet, the first batch of an all day parade of long-beaked common dolphins passed by the boat. By the end of the day we estimated at least 750 of these #dolphins were closely watched.
Our luck took an upturn around 1115am as we encountered a mother humpback and her medium-small calf. We followed alongside and had great looks, but like Scarlet, they had long bottom times and were rather business-like. At least 3 more humpback spouts were seen in the same mid-Channel region. As our luck continued to improve, at 12noon we came upon a large female gray whale with a newborn calf. The calf was very tiny, as you can see in the photograph above, and still had the folds across its body from being cooped up in mom’s womb for approximately a year. The body was brownish and very smooth without barnacle or amphipod infestations. We had the good fortune to be able to keep a respectful distance but still get fantastic looks at this tiny newborn gray whale. We wondered if we might have been the first people to see this little whale. We only stayed a short while to give the two whales their space, and soon we were off to the seacliffs of Santa Cruz Island and a visit to that wonder of geology: the Painted Cave. The California sea lions were still hauled out on the rocky cliffs inside the mouth of the cave.
As we left Santa Cruz and the cave we spotted 4 adult gray whales traveling together to the east. They looked like they were practicing their synchronized swimming for the cetacean olympics with less than one minute beneath the surface followed by several mighty spouts and then fluking up practically every time. I took a photograph of the ocean surface with all the footprints which looked like some kind of abstract art. On the way home, short on time, we could not stop but did see several other spouts all across the Channel. It was another sunny day with zero swells, it started out glassy and ended with a very light breeze….fantastic!
The Condor Express is hauling out this week for its bi-annual Coast Guard maintenance and inspections. Our next whale watch trips start January 23.
You never know what Mother Nature has in store.
Look for today’s photos on the web sometime Tuesday.