It was a “Fall Classic” with bright sunny skies all day and very calm seas. That Santa Barbara Channel cobalt blue color is coming back and permits some nice underwater looks at the species. Regarding today’s species, 3 humpback whales, 18 Risso’s dolphins, 1,000 long-beaked common dolphins and at least 750 California sea lions. All the sightings were good and the fabulous Risso’s dolphins were amazing.
We departed Santa Barbara harbor at 1015am and the first large pod of long-beaks found us at 1045. This first group was about 500 strong and was a nursery pod. Tiny calves darted here and there and jumped out of the water frequently to breathe. The cobalt water enhanced all of this, and no small wake wave was left unridden.
Around 1120 our first humpback whale appeared. It was migrating west and had 10 – 12 minute down times. The second whale popped up about a half-hour later and it, too, was a champion breath-holder. As we crossed over The Lanes, deckhand and third Captain Tasha, experto con los prismáticos, located numerous mega-mobs of sea lions associated with active birds all around in the distance. Also in the mix was another large, 500-strong, pod of long-beaked common dolphins.
There were at least 5 mega-mobs of sea lions. Several of the mobs had swarms of black-vented shearwaters and a few gulls seemingly diving on top of them. There must have been tons of bait just below the surface. So many sea lions drifting by the Condor Express was absolutely spectacular. There was no lolly-gagging or barking…it was all about communal feeding. Soon another humpback whale popped up in the milieu. It was a striking large beast with bright white pectoral fins that shone underwater and made tracking this animal a breeze.
A nice Painted Cave visit added some local geography to our tour today. Captain Dave gave his wonderful interpretation of the past history, geology and conservation efforts of Santa Cruz Island.
The final encounter of the afternoon came when Tasha located a tight pod of at least 18 Risso’s dolphins. There were juveniles in the pod, and the whole group surfaced and dove together repeatedly…again that clear water really helped.
You never know what Mother Nature has in store.