Humpbacks get into a feeding frenzy with dolphins and sea lions.

Bob Perrycommon dolphins, Condor Express, humpback whales, Sea birds, sea lion, shearwaters

A surface lunge-feeding humpback whale surrounded by shearwaters.

2018 09-22 SB Channel

Today’s excursion took us to the western coastal region near Platform Holly, then on a big loop out past the mid-Channel NOAA buoy before heading home.  A deep marine layer and mill pond glass surface persisted until 130pm, and then it got sunny with a slight breeze.  Most of the action took place from Holly and then to the southeast of the Platform.  Although 3 humpback whales, 1500 long-beaked common dolphins and 800 or so California sea lions were closely watched, you will have to read about the feeding frenzy.

We stopped to watch a few scattered small pods of dolphins on our way out to the action.  Around 1050am we entered the zone and nearly 500 additional dolphins located the Condor Express.  Two humpbacks were also in this area.  Soon a third whale was in the vicinity, and this threesome moved with the dolphins, sea lions and seabirds as a subsurface aggregation of northern anchovies was rapidly becoming a moveable feast.

About an hour later a huge hot spot developed.  At a distance, thousands of black-vented shearwaters circled around this hot spot and dove frequently on the bait.  Hundreds of dolphins and sea lions were also on the attack.  As we watched more closely, the hot spot became tight and all three of the previously mentioned whales got into it.  One of the leviathans made a dozen or so surface lunges as the anchovies got chased up by predators below.

These lunges were rarely vertical, and most took an angle almost parallel to the ocean surface.  My thought was that this angular lunge behavior might cut down on the incidental by-catch of seabirds by the whale.  Humpbacks do trap birds in their mouths quite often, and keep their mouth agape to let their feathered friend escape.  I suppose a thrashing bird such as a brown pelican in the mouth might do some serious baleen damage…I’ve never seen a bird swallowed by a humpback, by the way.

As the moveable feast headed close to Holly, it got smaller as the relentless attacks had already eaten and/or scattered most of the bait.  Captain Dave took advantage of this proximity to the Platform to give one of his excellent discourses on the Santa Barbara Channel, its natural oil and gas seeps, and Platform Holly in particular.

We ended the day with a loop outside towards the NOAA buoy which resulted in us watching another herd of several hundred dolphins.

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