The sea surface remained mill pond glassy until late in the trip when we encountered a mild sea breeze along the northern face of beautiful Santa Cruz Island. Skies were filled with thin stratus patches and by noon they had dissipated so the bright warm sun bathed the Condor Express and all the wildlife too. Speaking of wildlife, our trip sightings for today included 2 humpback whales, about 500 long-beaked common dolphins, numerous California sea lions and a few hundred pelagic red crabs.
About 8 miles south of Santa Barbara Harbor Captain Dave had brought us to some fertile grounds with more than a hundred dolphins. Of course the dolphins immediately mobbed the boat and rode bow, side and stern wake in a manner that made members of the World Surf League jealous. Try though they may, human surfers have not yet mastered the art of surfing upside down and underwater.
Before long our deckhand “Ojos de águila” Auggie had located the first spout. It was a humpback whale that tail fluked each and every time it dove, be it shallow or deep. This was an exceptional encounter for all the photographers on board. There were about 50 or so additional dolphins in with this humpback whale. About 40 minutes later we were southwest of Habitat and located on our second humpback whale. This one had very short, 4 – 5 minute, down times and proved to be equally enjoyable to watch as the first whale.
Dave steered a course for the west end of Santa Cruz Island where he delivered his always enlightening speech regarding the geology, paleontology, endemism, and prehistoric human inhabitants of this magical place. He also took the boat inside the mouth of the world-famous Painted Cave. Both the outer waters and the waters inside the Cave had numerous pelagic red crabs darting about. These wily crustaceans stayed deeper than a foot beneath the ocean surface today, making it difficult to snap good photographs. On the other hand this behavior probably kept the population alive since numerous western gulls were sitting on the water just outside the Cave as well as in the ante-chamber. Gulls don’t dive for food, but they can stretch their pesky necks and capture pelagic red crabs that stray too close to the surface.
On our way home we found another medium large herd of common dolphins in the southbound Lane.
You never know what Mother Nature has in store.