Large adult humpback whale is shown breaching in the Santa Barbara Channel today.

Lots of action, plus Life and death in the Channel

2019 08-14 SB Channel

9 humpback whales and 3000 long-beaked common dolphins were closely watched.  Skies had a thick stratus layer until we found some sunny sucker holes towards the middle of the trip. Seas were calm and frequently silky smooth.

Captain Dave and the crew of the Condor Express ran south and into the northbound commercial shipping lanes before heading home.  As so often happens these days, the total numbers do not begin to tell the entire story.  It might be appropriate to refer to this trip as the “circle of life” cruise, as you shall see as you read on.

Thirty minutes after clearing the Santa Barbara Harbor entrance buoy, with its regular crew of California sea lions, we were located by a spread-out pod of dolphins with at least 1000 individuals. The first section of this pod was a nursery pod, full of mothers with their tiny calves in tow.  This slowly transitioned to what I might respectively call a “reproductive” pod. I’ve never seen so much mating going on in one area, along with males chasing females everywhere. Of course, the viewing (and photographing) was enhanced by the glassy seas.  We saw more and more dolphins all day.

Not quite an hour passed until our first humpback sighting.  It was a very large adult with an all-black tail. We enjoyed watching it for 45 minutes.  During our time with this beast, it spontaneously did some lazy, slow-motion, tail-throws.  It also did a slow/prolonged dive with its tail in the air (a “headstand”), and another dive with a pronounced tail-flick.  It had a habit of gurgling a small bubble blast before it reached the surface to spout, and it made one very close and friendly approach.  Four additional whales were watched not too far away.

Around 100pm the crew spotted a large adult breaching and chin-slapping in the distance. We proceeded to its location.  As we slowly approached the area and got better looks (and photographs), we found the huge surface-active female (mother) with a much smaller (calf) that, at first glance, looked like it was logging nearby on the surface.  It was not long before we realized the calf was not logging. Sadly it was dead. Its little lifeless body floated right-side up and the mother swam around it.  Mom also got under the carcass and lifted it up on her rostrum.  She did not stray more than a few meters from her deceased calf.  So it goes.  Later, during the trip back to the harbor, we watched 3 additional whales with loads of dolphins, too.

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