Remember the date, Tuesday, September 13, 2016. It was a wonderful day with all sorts of marine mammals and an extensive killer whale encounter. In addition to at least 10 Bigg’s killer whales we had visits from 4 humpback whales, 1 Minke whale, 400 long-beaked common dolphins, 100 short-beaked common dolphins, and a few hundred California sea lions. The day started with broken low level stratus and patches of sunshine. Seas were very calm and by noon it was sunny all around.
We departed Santa Barbara harbor at 1015am and by 1025am we were surrounded by our first herd of around 100 long-beaked common dolphins. There were numerous calves in this herd, and they made the most of our wake. Captain Dave continued on a southwesterly heading, shooting for Santa Rosa Island. After an hour or so, another equally large group of short-beaked common dolphins was on the scene. These animated little mammals kept everyone glued to the railings taking delphies.
By 1145am we were running west on The Ledge north of Frasier Point. The first two humpback whales were watched and consisted of one larger and one smaller adult. They had short 6 minute down times and showed their flukes every time. Third Captain and deckhand Tasha maintained 360-degree surveillance and found a large Minke whale that surfaced 5 times before disappearing beneath the waves. There were two large mobs of California sea lions along the route, and a lot of sea bird activity with them. We drifted alongside one of the mobs and the multitudes of dark eyeballs stared at us as they passed by.
Captain Dave had already located a couple more whale spouts farther west along The Ledge, off Carrington Point, Santa Rosa Island. This turned out to be 2 additional humpback whales. As before, they had short down times. This duo approached the boat a couple of times and were quite friendly. Meanwhile, Tasha-who-never-rests saw activity north of our location.
At first glance this new activity zone showed distinctive tall dorsal fins and as we have been seeing a few Risso’s dolphins now and then lately, this was her first fleeting impression. But she changed her mind quickly after some violent tail-throwing and other distinctive turbulence, and before long we were gliding into a zone with at least 10 Bigg’s killer whales. This pod had 3 males, one very large, one large and one medium-sized. There were also some juveniles including one very small little fellow. As we arrived on the scene there was a lot of gull activity and several were carrying-off pieces of flesh. But, alas, there was not enough left of this kill to identify what species had been communally consumed. Soon the post-feeding behaviors began including some nice spy-hops, tail fluking, etc. We followed this pod as they moved east for an hour, from Carrington to Frasier. During this time they came together as a group several times, and also had periods when the males were off by themselves.
Towards the end of this magical killer whale encounter, the direction they were heading included a large group of common dolphins. As the black-and-whites approached the dolphins, there were no aggressive movements or chasing. Perhaps this was because they had just been feeding and were not interested. But the nervous dolphins did not hang around to test this hypothesis, and a “stampede” to the north and out of this zone took place right away.
The entire KW pod came over to the Condor Express twice, dove under our twin hulls, and surfaced on the other side. It was an “eyeball to eyeball” kind of thing.
You never know what Mother Nature has in store.