It was perhaps the best conditions for whale watching we’ve had in months: mill pond flat and glassy all day, clear and sunny skies. And the wildlife did not disappoint. The Condor Express cleared the Santa Barbara breakwater at 1015am and at 1020am we were set up on a pod of at least 6 inshore bottle-nose dolphins. These #dolphins came over to the boat once or twice, but otherwise were on a track to the west. Good looks! By 1048am we were getting into a productive zone and had 2 large mobs of porpoising California sea lions. Minutes later we found Scarlet with an even larger adult humpback whale. The #whales were up and down, heading no particular direction, but sending up fantastic spouts which seemed to hang in the cool winter air forever. After a couple of friendly approaches, the two humpbacks made a bee-line for the boat and dove down. The larger whale had white pectoral fins which made it easy to see as it swam close by and paralleled the boat about 10 feet down. Then along came Scarlet who literally drifted along under the bow for several precious minutes. At first she was deeper than her friend and emitted a single fine stream of bubbles from her blowholes. Then she came up and leveled off about 10 or 15 feet below the surface and was under the boat, finally emerging on the starboard side of the bow. In the clear water her tubercles, mouth, splash guard, blowholes AND her propeller scar pattern were clearly visible. Both whales surfaced very very close to the bow, one before the other. I can tell you it was like time stood still as we looked right straight down on these friendly humpbacks. I’m still getting chills as I write this.
Around 1150 am we left the Scarlet and her friend and continued in a southerly direction towards Santa Cruz Island. At 1230pm we found a lone gray whale that had a very nice breathing pattern: 2 minutes of shallow diving followed by several breaths on the surface. This whale was clocked at 6 knots as it headed east, and we matched its course and speed and kept a safe distance with good viewing. At least 5 additional gray whales were seen spouting in the area. At 1248pm we left the gray whale and did a nice tour of the northern sea cliffs off the west end of Santa Cruz, including a visit to the world famous Painted Cave at 109pm. At 118pm second Captain Eric somehow managed to spot a bald eagle 3/4ths of the way up the cliffs and surrounded by dark rocks. How does he do this? Our friend Debbie has nicknamed Eric “Eagle Eyes” now. On the way home, at 159pm, our leisurely glide across the silky smooth ocean was interrupted by a humongous humpback breach. On the scene quickly we found a mother and her yearling calf and had some great looks in the afternoon sun.
One more trip is running tomorrow and these outstanding conditions are supposed to hold. Our next trip after that will be January 23 as we will be in the boatyard doing maintenance and getting our Coast Guard inspections as required by law.
I’ll get the trip photos posted online sometime Monday or Tuesday at the latest.
You never know what Mother Nature has in store.